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COVID-19 ‘heat map’ unveiled, using Facebook-powered data

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According to a statement, the project which is led by Carnegie Mellon University, provides “real-time indications of COVID-19 activity not previously available from any other source”.

Millions of Facebook and Google users took surveys of which the responses were used to track the spread of the virus.

The heat map is only available in the US as of yet but according to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, there are plans to expand it globally and that the University of Maryland’s research teams are currently working on making it happen.

On his Facebook page, Zuckerberg wrote, “As the world fights COVID-19 and countries develop plans to reopen their societies, it’s critical to have a clear understanding of how the disease is spreading.”

Adding that, “With a community of billions of people globally, Facebook can uniquely help researchers and health authorities get the information they need to respond to the outbreak and start planning for the recovery.”

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have stated that the online surveys have generated millions of responses on a weekly basis from Facebook users and around 600,000 from Google users.

“Using these and other unique data sources, the CMU researchers will monitor changes over time, enabling them to forecast COVID-19 activity several weeks into the future,” they added.

The Facebook survey responses about symptoms which people are experiencing and this data is inherently used and controlled by the research team only, without being shared with the social network.

“The survey asked people if they have symptoms such as fevers, coughing, shortness of breath or loss of smell that are associated with COVID-19,” said Zuckerberg.

Concluding that, “Since experiencing symptoms is a precursor to becoming more seriously ill, this survey can help forecast how many cases hospitals will see in the days ahead and provide an early indicator of where the outbreak is growing and where the curve is being successfully flattened.”