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What’s the risk of catching COVID-19 near you?

By HUB SmartCoverage Team on May 3rd, 2020

If you’ve wondered what’s your personal risk of being exposed to COVID-19 in your neighbourhood, there new crowdsourcing tools that can give you some insight.

Interactive sites such as Flatten and COVID Near You can tell you if your home or insurance company office is located in a high-risk area, says a recent report by Canadian Underwriter.

Both sites rely on crowdsourcing information, which is the practice of obtaining information by enlisting the services of a large number of people, either paid or unpaid, typically via the Internet. As a result, it can raise concerns about the data being abused.

But Flatten says it uses cookies and Recaptcha (a box to confirm the user is not a robot) to ensure trolls are kept away, as well as tracking suspicious IP addresses.

“Self-reporting offers immediate high-level tracking of the spread of the virus in a way that will help inform the general public’s self-isolating behaviour, as well as provide key data for government and health services to act upon,” the Flatten team writes in its blog.

“This information can help mitigate the risk placed upon vulnerable individuals and ensure the general population is cognizant of its surroundings and monitoring its health. Currently, the resource and logistics requirements of widespread testing are a barrier to understanding the health of the general population. Self-reporting, despite the lower fidelity of its data, is a useful method to address these challenges and help us to understand how COVID-19 is spreading.”

When visiting Flatten, users can input how they’re feeling, whether they have any symptoms — ranging from fever to chills to stomach pain — and their age. It also asks whether you’ve been out of the country, had contact with someone who may be at risk (whether they are sick or have been out of the country), and if they’ve been tested for COVID-19.

Answers are collected and shared anonymously through a heatmap to help healthcare providers, researchers, and community members gauge the spread of COVID-19. The questionnaire is based on the best available guidance from Canadian public health agencies and is designed to collect information regarding your risk factors for COVID-19

“It is not intended to facilitate any kind of diagnosis or self-assessment for COVID-19,” Flatten’s website says. “If you suspect you may have COVID-19, please seek a medical professional.”

With COVID Near You, if you report that you are feeling well, it asks your age and gender. But if a user reports not feeling well, it asks what symptoms the user is having, such as a fever, headache, nausea and others. It then asks other questions such as when the user started feeling ill if they’ve received the flu vaccine, and if they’ve been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for the virus.

Both sites ask for the first three characters of your postal code and then add your information to the list. COVID Near You tracks COVID-19 information in Canada for the last two weeks. As of April 27, it had 422,037 people in Canada report on its site; Flatten, as of the same date, had 427,268 responses in its database and shows all data reported.

Users can zero in on their neighbourhood and click to view the data. Flatten is colour coded to show the percentage of vulnerable individuals (the number of reports from vulnerable people compared to total reports provided) from a postal code. COVID Near You reveals how many people in the last two weeks have reported virus symptoms, taken a test and how many people in all have provided data.

COVID Near You, a sister site of Flu Near You, was created by Boston Children’s Hospital, HealthMap (a team of researchers, epidemiologists and software developers from the hospital) and volunteers.

Flatten is backed by Google, the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, based out of Toronto General Hospital, and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, a charitable organization. University of Toronto student Shrey Jain is the president and director.

While these site in no way replace medical advice, it’s an interesting snapshot of your neighbourhood and COVID-19.

RELATED READING:Your guide to help during COVID-19

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