We’re now four months into the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., with no end in sight, considering several states have hit new highs for daily confirmed cases recently. Florida has the dubious honor of setting a new mark for the country. Sure, we are testing more, but that only means we know more about the continued spread of the virus. It’s not as though not testing would reduce the actual cases – it would just give us less reliable information. What we do know is information is necessary in fighting this battle.
In light of the recent surges, many states have paused their re-opening plans, and some have ordered many businesses to re-close, and states like Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey have ordered 14-day-self-quarantines for travelers coming from 19 states.
Still, with summer plans still in flux for so many people and organizations, many are still trying to figure out graduation events, birthday parties, weddings, and other gatherings. In addition to that, schools are trying to formulate plans for the fall, sports organizations are trying to get their events off the ground, and state and local governments are constantly re-assessing their policies. The question people are asking is, how safe is it for me to attend an event, or is it safe to host an event?
Researchers at Georgia Tech have developed a risk assessment tool to help people answer those questions. The COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool provides an interactive real-time tool to provide a risk level by county based on the expected size of any gathering. The tool uses data from The COVID Tracking Project and New York Times, combined with census information to provide better context for planning events of any size.
The project comes from Joshua Weitz, professor in the School of Biological Sciences and founding director of Georgia Tech’s Ph.D. in Quantitative Biosciences program. He has collaborates with the lab of Clio Andris, an assistant professor in the School of City and Regional Planning with a joint appointment in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech, and with researchers from the Applied Bioinformatics Laboratory, a public/private partnership between Georgia Tech, IHRC Inc., and ASRT Inc.
The dashboard, which uses the number of reported cases over the past 14 days, also considers gaps in testing in its calculations with an estimated number of active cases. This is important for building any sort of reliable tool, considering the CDC’s estimates that the number of people with antibodies could be as much as 10 times higher than the number of people who have tested positive.
The tool has been designed with ease of use in mind, so people have access to a tool to aid responsible decision making.
Let’s take a look at current information in Fairfield County, where TMC is headquartered.
For gatherings of 1,000 people, the risk, level is 95%. For 500 people, it’s at 79%, but for gatherings of 100 people, there’s a significant drop to 26%. For small gatherings of 10, there is only a 3% risk factor.
In Orange and Osceola Counties in Florida, home to the Disney World and Universal theme parks, the numbers are quite different. Groups of 10 have a 50% risk rate, while groups of 25 are at 82%, groups of 50 at 95%, and groups of 100 are >99%.
The tool is updated daily and reflects current information. To be clear, though, it is only a tool to help guide decisions, along with state and local guidelines. The fact is, though, there will always be a risk, and the best way to reduce it is to wear masks where appropriate and continue following distancing measures.