Epidemiologists Using Google Maps to Track COVID Outbreaks

By KCBS All News 106.9FM and 740AM

A group of researchers at University of California, San Francisco want to use the location data from your phone to better map how and where the novel coronavirus is spreading in the Bay Area.

"If you have a Google account and you have Google Maps on your phone, Google Maps stores your data every two minutes and is accurate up to six feet. So your data is stored continuously," explained Dr. Yulin Hswen, Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UCSF.

Dr. Hswen and her team are recruiting people to volunteer their smartphone data so that they can better pinpoint where people have been and who they have been in contact with.

Participants in the COVID Seeker study will upload their location histories and report any symptoms and test results.

"So we actually collect retroactive data. So when someone tests positive, what we do is we collect two weeks of data prior to being tested and two weeks after," said Dr. Hswen.

Participants can also request to be notified if their data shows they have come in close contact with someone else who has tested positive. They said the best way to predict future behavior is to understand past behavior, and looking at how the virus has spread in the past could help inform how and when different sectors reopen.

The data is aggregated and anonymized to protect participants’ privacy.

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