• The online tool uses county-level data from across the US and parts of Europe.
  • Estimated risk of an event is displayed as a percentage.
  • Reducing social contacts and travel are still the most effective ways of reducing risk.

An interactive map developed by US scientists can help Americans understand the risk of heading home for Thanksgiving, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread.

The COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool was developed in July by researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and uses county-level data to measure the risk of attending an event according to the number of people there and its location.

There is also data covering some parts of Europe, including the UK, France, Italy, Spain and Austria.

Users in the US can select the county they are interested in and the number of people in attendance, which can be anything from 10 for a dinner party to 5,000 for a sporting event.

The interactive map then calculates the estimated risk – between 0-100% – that at least one person with COVID-19 will be present.

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Image: COVID-19 Risk Assessment Planning Tool

Created by a soccer fan

The statistical model was the brainchild of Atlanta United fan and Georgia Tech quantitative biosciences professor Joshua S Weitz, who was trying to decide whether to go to the soccer team’s first home game after Atlanta’s lockdown lifted.

This led Weitz to create a statistical model about the likelihood of meeting an infected person among many.

Realizing it could be useful elsewhere, he turned to his colleague Clio Andris, an assistant professor at the Schools of City & Regional Planning and Interactive Computing, to visualize the data and create an interactive map to help others assess their risk of exposure.

Caution urged

The tool could prove helpful for members of the public to understand their risk of infection amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has led to more than 12 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 250,000 deaths in the US.

Thanksgiving, on November 26, is one of the biggest public holidays in the US, with nearly 50.6 million expected to travel to see their families, thereby increasing the risk of spreading the disease.

The website reminds users that they can reduce the likelihood that one coronavirus case goes on to affect many others by wearing a mask, social distancing and by meeting others outdoors, in smaller groups.

However, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stresses that marking Thanksgiving virtually or only with the people you live with is the safest way of celebrating this year, while in-person gatherings that bring family and friends together from different households pose various levels of increased risk.

Coronavirus data visualized

The Georgia Tech website is just one of a range of online tools designed to inform people about the risks and regulations in different areas of the globe.

Global air passengers can refer to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) COVID-19 Travel Regulations Map for travel information, although it stresses users should check with their airlines for the latest updates.

Similarly, the COVID Controls website, developed by Escape, a team of engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, includes information on regulations alongside up-to-date case information.

The Reopen-EU app uses case data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention to give an overview of the latest situations in 31 countries, alongside up-to-date information on the regulations in each region.

In the UK, members of the public can visit an interactive map on the government website to see the latest weekly case numbers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Areas are colour-coded according to numbers of positive cases per 100,000 people, with hyperlocal data searchable by postcode.

Reduce social contacts to reduce risk

Governments and health authorities around the world continue to urge their citizens to reduce their social contacts and travel less – and, in many cases, have introduced restrictions to reduce non-essential travel – in a bid to control the spread of the coronavirus.

Informative tools can help with decision-making, but taking precautions such as social distancing and face masks remains essential – as does considering whether making a journey or attending an event is really worth the risk in the first place.