More than 40 student and faculty researchers from more than 20 departments and colleges at Saint Louis University have mobilized to curb the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigate its effects. This includes a number of experts working to track the crisis.
Why Do We Track COVID-19?
SLU researchers from a variety of fields are tracking the spread of COVID-19, as well as related factors such as citizens’ mobility following the implementation and the lifting of stay-at-home orders and the location of infection hotspots.
According to Chris Prener, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, this research and the data gathered from it is crucial in pandemic response: “[These] data have provided policy makers with information that could be used to make decisions like tightening or loosening social distancing measures,” Prener said. Additionally, tracking the data in real time provides a window in which researchers can test hypotheses.
“Tracking a pandemic helps us know where and when to focus our resources in public health and health care systems to best address the needs of the public,” said Enbal Shacham, Ph.D., professor of public health and associate director of the SLU Geospatial Institute (GeoSLU).
It’s critical that researchers and public health officials have access to good data. “[Good data] measure the thing we want them to measure… and, for something that unfolds over time, they do so in a way that is consistent," Prener said.
As the collection of geolocated data becomes more prevalent in the fight against COVID-19, the ethical dimensions of this research become all the more important.
“Sharing data is imperative to manage this pandemic; as outbreaks continue to occur, we need to have the closest to real-time data we have available,” Shacham said. “The ethical use of data is of the highest importance. We need to ensure the public that these data will be used to improve health practices.”
Driven by the University’s Jesuit values, SLU researchers are well positioned to grapple with these ethical issues.
“We have a range of experts both in the technical questions about data sharing, the legal facets of laws like HIPAA, and the larger philosophical challenges that a pandemic’s data present us with,” Prener said.
Those experts include the members of the Geospatial Ethics Research and Practice Group within GeoSLU, which focuses on the ethical use of geospatial data and how best to balance privacy and the responsible use of data. That group is co-led by Shacham and Michael Rozier, S.J., Ph.D., assistant professor of health management and policy, who was named an EthicalGEO Fellow by the American Geographical Society in 2019.
Tracking COVID-19 at SLU
Below is a sample of the research happening at SLU to track the pandemic:
- SLU researchers from a variety of fields are tracking the spread of COVID-19. The SLU Geospatial Institute (GeoSLU) is leading these efforts. Enbal Shacham, Ph.D., professor of public health and associate director of GeoSLU, and Stephen Scroggins, a doctoral student in public health, have been tracking the spread of COVID-19 in St. Louis City and County, as well as mobility throughout the region as stay-at-home orders, have been enacted. The latest maps from GeoSLU can be found below.
- Shacham is also working alongside Flavio Esposito, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science, and Roberto Coral, a research assistant in computer science, to develop an app that will monitor real-time symptoms and the location of symptomatic individuals while providing geolocated health care facilities near participants. These researchers are actively recruiting individuals working at grocery stores as well as any individual willing to participate in a study of intraday symptoms of COVID-19 and their related locations. Scroggins are Tim Wiemken, Ph.D., associate professor from SLUCOR, also assisting with this project. The app can downloaded below.
- Marc Painter, Ph.D., assistant professor of finance, is using geolocation data to examine the effectiveness of social distancing orders. He has found that political beliefs present a limitation to such orders; the likelihood of an individual following social distancing orders is affected by that individual’s political beliefs. Painter has co-authored a paper on this topic with Tian Qiu, a Ph.D. student in the finance department at the University of Kentucky.
Maps and Other Resources
SLU researchers tracking the pandemic have created a variety of resources in the course of their work. A sample of those resources, including maps illustrating the spread of the virus, can be found below.
Enbal Shacham, Ph.D., Flavio Esposito, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science, and Roberto Coral, a research assistant in computer science, have developed an app to monitor real-time symptoms and the location of symptomatic individuals while providing geolocated health care facilities near participants. Join the effort to track and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in your community. Monitor your symptoms, find nearby health care facilities, and track the spread of the virus in real-time.
The following maps were developed by Enbal Shacham, Ph.D., professor of public health and associate professor of GeoSLU, and Stephen Scroggins, a doctoral student in public health. The maps show the spread of COVID-19 in St. Louis City and County, as well as mobility throughout the region as stay-at-home orders, have been enacted.
Chris Prener, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, has developed the following website to track the spread of COVID-19 in Missouri by county. Prener uses the latest available COVID-19 outbreak data from the New York Time’s COVID-19 project, the State of Missouri, the City of St. Louis, and St. Louis County. The New York Times data are used for state and county-level data, and local data sources are used for zip code and individual level data.
Prener is also providing updates on Twitter. You can follow him @chrisprener.
Tim Wiemken, Ph.D., associate professor from SLUCOR, Chris Prener, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, and Samson Niemotka, a health data science student, have created a time-series anomaly detection for mortality due to COVID-19. It tracks mortality by country, mortality by state in the US, and mortality by county in the US. It also includes Missouri and St. Louis city/county maps for various COVID-19 metrics.