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Esri geospatial COVID-19 mapping tools help with community contact tracing

As communities and businesses begin to reopen amid an ongoing pandemic contact tracing becomes the first line of defense. Leveraging location information can enhance these efforts.



Months into the coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19 continues to take its toll on populations and economies around the globe. In recent weeks, lockdown measures have lifted in many states, and businesses have reopened amid a strange new normal. To help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, we’ve seen the development of a host of contact-tracing protocols from apps to manual boots-on-the-ground efforts.

With no vaccine or cocktail of treatments available, contact tracing at the community level becomes the first line of defense. Geographic information system (GIS) software company Esri released information detailing an analytical capability system known as Community Contact Tracing, a sophisticated spatially enabled approach to contact tracing.

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Contact tracing and the importance of space

Contact tracing is the process of backtracking the person-to-person contact and interactions of an infected person. This complex web of contacts can be used to pinpoint potential infectees and reduce the risk of further transmission. Once identified, self-quarantine efforts can then help reduce the spread beyond these potential infections, thus removing another vector from the equation.

More nuanced contact tracing can be achieved using location information within the overall approach. To accomplish this, the process requires “the location enablement of contact addresses and community locations during the data collection process.” This allows contact tracers to determine specific locations where the virus is spreading, adding another level of sophistication to the model.

Esri tools enhance traditional contact tracing techniques. Within ArcGIS Pro, for example, “link analysis and centrality can identify places that may connect cases and contacts otherwise unknown to one another,” according to the release. Once transmission hotspots within a community have been identified, officials can then rethink ways to promote social distancing in these areas. Additionally, organizations can then schedule more rigorous decontamination efforts in these areas. There are myriad coronavirus dashboards available, many offering spatial interfaces and real-time data updates.

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During a spike in cases, medical equipment, such as ventilators and ICU beds, are at a premium. The spatial patterns involved in coronavirus transmission are central to an effective response strategy, especially at scale. By understanding cases and anticipated hospitalization in a given area, healthcare systems and local governments can then develop a more sophisticated location-allocation plan. These strategies involve placing surplus medical equipment in areas where they can be quickly mobilized to most efficiently reach surge cities or areas quickly.

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