Canadian university students create map of self-reported potential COVID-19 cases
TORONTO -- A team of Canadian university students have been spending their unexpected time off coming up with a new digital map to help Canada flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases.
Reports of young people attending social gatherings and spring break celebrations regardless of advice from health officials have sparked criticisms that young people aren’t pulling their weight.
But 19-year-old Arthur Allshire is just one of many university students determined to help out.
While they are stuck at home, Allshire and his fellow students have collaborated on an interactive website called flatten.ca, which maps out not only confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada, but also potential cases and areas where there may be a higher population of at-risk individuals.
“It started with just a few of us at University of Toronto, and then some of us had friends at other universities, and so we invited them,” Allshire told CTV News.
The goal of the site is to help Canadians keep the number of cases down by getting an idea ahead of time where the danger zones are and where the next confirmed cases could be.
Shrey Jain, an 18-year-old engineering student, was the one who first came up with the idea.
Jain pointed out that if we “identify where vulnerable people are and identify where potential cases are, then we know where we might need resources like ventilators.”
The site depends on users filling out information, so they are hoping the site will be shared widely.
To help out from your own home -- and to see how many people are experiencing symptoms within your neighbourhood -- you simply have to go to their website and answer a short survey.
The survey asks if you’re experiencing symptoms such as a cough or shortness of breath, or if you belong to a high risk group, or if you have recently come into contact with someone who might have the virus or has travelled recently. At the end, you are asked to input the first three letters/numbers of your postal code so that they can place your results within your respective neighbourhood/municipality.
University of Waterloo student Yifei Zhang, who is an engineer and team lead for the project, says it’s important “even for people who are currently feeling fine,” to fill out the form with whatever symptoms they have, and then come back and update the form if their health changes as the days and weeks go by.
After you hit enter, you are taken to a heat map that gathers the results of those surveys.
The heat map has different tabs to allow users to see a map of confirmed cases, potential cases (those who said they were experiencing symptoms in the survey), and vulnerable individuals (those who said in the survey that they were immunocompromised or over the age of 60).
The information can be used in a variety of ways. If a person with a potential case of COVID-19 looks at the map and realizes that their neighbourhood contains a high number of vulnerable individuals, they may be more incentivized to stay indoors, as health officials have instructed those who are ill to do.
Students in engineering, computer science and molecular genetics have been helping from McMaster, the University of Waterloo and the University of New Brunswick.
The data becomes more and more accurate the more people input their symptoms and locations, so the students behind the map are now hoping that the website goes viral.
Already, they’re seeing a surge.
“(We) went from, you know, (300) to 400 users on Monday, to now 25,000 users today,” Jain told CTV News.
As of Friday evening, over 50,000 people had filled out the website to do their part.
While the potential cases and vulnerable individuals data is taken completely from data inputted into Flatten’s web form, the information on confirmed cases is from COVID-19 Canada Open Data Working Group, and doesn’t show a detailed breakdown of where in a city the cases are.
COVID-19 Canada Open Data Working Group was made by professors from the University of Toronto and the University of Guelph, who have been collecting the publicly available information on the demographics of the outbreak in Canada in order to create their own map.