5 Steps for Using GIS to Combat COVID-19

For decades, geographic information systems (GIS) have been used to respond to crises. The technology has been used to save lives in wildfires, hurricanes, the opioid epidemic, homelessness and more. Now, it is being used to save lives in the COVID-19 pandemic.

In what ways is GIS being used to combat the spread? At GovLoop’s online training on Tuesday, GIS professionals shared some of the capabilities of the technology to better understand the effects of COVID-19.

Dr. Este Geraghty, Chief Medical Officer and Health Solutions Director at Esri, identified five steps for GIS professionals and responders to take. These five steps offer a more contextualized perspective that maps where and how responders should focus their efforts during the pandemic.

First, map the cases. This means mapping confirmed and active cases of those who have been infected with the virus, as well as fatalities and recoveries. Fauquier County in Virginia, for example, is utilizing a GIS solution to publicly track and display the number of cases in its region.

Second, map the spread. Epidemiologists are already tracking the spread of the virus over time. But coupled with GIS, responders can take this data to the next level. “When you know the direction of the spread and the pace of the spread, you can determine when and where to target your interventions, like the shelter-in-place orders,” Dr. Geraghty said.

Third, map vulnerable or high-risk populations. The elderly and those with underlying health conditions are more vulnerable to contracting the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Socioeconomic status and race are also factors that are correlated with higher risk. GIS can incorporate the CDC’s social vulnerability index, and others, to better understand the regions at highest risk.

Fourth, map capacity. “Once you understand your vulnerabilities, you want to understand your capacity to respond,” Dr. Geraghty said. Mapping the facilities, personnel and resources for responding to the spread of the virus ensures efforts are allocated more effectively. It also reveals the capacity gaps that need to be filled. Definitive Healthcare, for example, uses GIS to map resource capacity state by state and county by county.

Fifth, communicate with maps. Government organizations have already been using various solutions to communicate information to partners and the public. Maps are an informative channel through which people can understand and respond to the crisis. Counties in Idaho, Florida, Colorado and Pennsylvania are leveraging this capability to communicate business impacts, school closures and county impact planning to their residents.

With this framework, responders can spur GIS into action to help flatten the curve and potentially save lives.

“The world is benefitting from GIS during this pandemic, in that everybody is staying more informed,” said Chris Thomas, Director of Government Markets at Esri.

Photo credit: CDC on Unsplash

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Amy DeWolf

Thanks for a great recap! The power of GIS to visualize all of the health data during times like Covid or other crises never ceases to amaze me. I loved seeing all the different use cases on the webinar.