Johns Hopkins University, whose global count of COVID-19 cases and deaths has become one of the most popular sources for information about the disease, has unveiled a new United States map that dives into the pandemic on a county level.
The U.S. map provides information about counties’ health infrastructure, population and policies and cases related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“If we want to understand the impact of COVID-19 in our communities and to be able to track its spread, we need to break these numbers down from a national, or even a state, level,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “County- and city-level data give us a much more nuanced understanding of the cases, hospitalizations and deaths that are occurring so that we can more appropriately identify areas where increased transmission is happening, try to understand what resources might be needed to help mitigate the impacts of these infections — like, for instance, expanding health care resources.
The university’s coronavirus tabulations have become a ubiquitous tool, counting cases and deaths around the world and tracking which countries have become hot spots.
But as the U.S. became the center of the outbreak, the Hopkins dashboard added information at a county level. That map has been built and maintained by the university’s engineering school.
Hopkins researchers decided to use the new county-level data to do a deeper dive than just the number of new cases and deaths.
The U.S. map tracks where infections are by county in the same way the global map tracks infections by country. But when users zoom in on an area, they can click on a county to see a COVID-19 status report for that county.
“We saw this as an incredible opportunity to start to zoom in and start to understand the impact that COVID-19 is having at a very local level,” said Beth Blauer, executive director of the Johns Hopkins University Centers for Civic Impact.
Those county-level reports include information that includes how many hospital beds are available in the county, the demographic breakdown of who has been infected, and policies, like stay-at-home orders, that have been put into effect to help limit the spread of the virus.
Hopkins researchers hope that the data helps inform everyone, from leaders trying to make decisions to regular people just trying to understand the pandemic that has suddenly changed the way the world works.
“At perhaps no other point in history has data and analysis of that data played a critical role in decision-making at the federal, state and local level,” said Tamara Goyea, a senior data scientist with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.
The dashboard builds on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Red Cross, the Census American Community Survey and the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
More data could also be used as the map is built out. Blauer wants to understand how race and underlying medical conditions, also called comorbidities, have played into the virus.
“One of the things I think that we will be tracking is which states are releasing their data with their race and ethnicity breakdown so that we can get a real understanding of which populations are hardest hit,” she said. More information can also help understand, “what are some of the other health challenges that particular communities are facing and being able to understand how they are really driving complications with dealing with the virus itself.”