Crowdsourced data could help researchers identify COVID-19 hotspots

A new surveillance database could soon show us the locations of new and potential hotspots of COVID-19, thanks to research being done at the University of South Florida College of Public Health.

The project was born out of a concern over the validity of Florida's publicly-reported case data, officials with the school said Monday.

“Probably, at least, the data that’s come out of Iceland and Austria this morning indicates that we’re probably only detecting about 10% of the infections that are actually out there in the community at the moment,” said Thomas Unnasch, of USF Global and Planetary Health.

During the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group meeting Monday, USF health researchers said they are working on a surveillance database of possible hotspots, modeled after one in Puerto Rico.

MORE: As Florida's curve appears to level, experts warn: continue to distance

People who want to participate would be able to enter their symptoms and information online or call in and talk to a healthcare worker to see if their illness is characteristic of COVID-19. If a subject's symptoms are similar to COVID-19, their data would show up in the database as a possible case.

“Getting a handle on what’s going on in the community with mild symptomatic infections could really be an important factor in trying to identify how bad the problem is and where the problem exists within the communities,” said Unnasch.

Public health officials are as worried about symptomatic COVID-19 patients as they are about asymptomatic carriers who can unknowingly spread the disease. Antibody testing could also help researchers better understand the scope of the disease in Florida.

“That’s where we can, through blood tests, identify people who have developed an immune reaction. We still have a lot to learn about what that really means, both in the short term for people and then in the long term,” said Dr. Marissa Levine of USF Public Health.

So as the push for more testing continues, researchers hope mapping where the virus is spreading can help those communities sooner.

The database is not live yet, but could be in the next few weeks.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know


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