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2nd Top Story of 2020: What’s the risk of catching COVID-19 in your area?


April 16, 2020   by Adam Malik


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New crowdsourcing tools have been made available to show your own personal risk of exposure to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in your neighbourhood.

For example, If you want to know if your home, brokerage or insurance company office is located in a high-risk virus area, Flatten and COVID Near You are interactive sites offering such data.

Both sites rely on crowdsourcing information, which raises concerns around abuse of the data being entered. Flatten says it uses cookies and Recaptcha (a box to confirm the user isn’t a robot) to ensure trolls are kept away, as well as tracking suspicious IP addresses.

A screenshot of Flatten.ca’s crowdsourcing map

“Self-reporting offers immediate high-level tracking of the spread of the virus in a way that will help inform the general public’s self-isolating behaviour, as well as provide key data for government and health services to act upon,” the team of Flatten writes in its blog. “This information can help mitigate the risk placed upon vulnerable individuals and ensure the general population is cognizant of its surroundings and monitoring its health. Currently, the resource and logistics requirements of widespread testing are a barrier to understanding the health of the general population. Self-reporting, despite the lower fidelity of its data, is a useful method to address these challenges and help us to understand how COVID-19 is spreading.”

When visiting Flatten, users can input how they’re feeling physically, whether they have any symptoms — ranging from fever to chills to stomach pain — and their age. It also asks whether the user has been out of the country, had contact with someone who may be at risk (whether they are sick or have been out of the country), and if they’ve been tested for COVID-19.

With COVID Near You, if you report that you are feeling well, it asks your age and gender. But if a user reports not feeling well, it asks what symptoms the user is having, such as a fever, headache, nausea and others. It then asks other questions such as when the user started feeling ill, if they’ve received the flu vaccine, and if they’ve been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for the virus.

A screenshot of COVID Near You’s crowdsourcing map

Both sites ask for the first three characters of your postal code and then add your information to the list. COVID Near You tracks COVID-19 information in Canada for the last two weeks. It has had nearly 400,000 people in Canada report on its site; Flatten has about 420,000 responses in its database and shows all data reported.

Users can zoom in on their neighbourhood and click to view the data. Flatten is colour coded to show the percentage of vulnerable individuals (the number of reports from vulnerable people compared to total reports provided) from a postal code. COVID Near You will show how many people in the last two weeks have reported virus symptoms, taken a test and how many people in all have provided data.

COVID Near You, a sister site of Flu Near You, was created by Boston Children’s Hospital, HealthMap (a team of researchers, epidemiologists and software developers from the hospital) and volunteers.

Flatten is backed by Google, the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, based out of Toronto General Hospital, and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, a charitable organization. University of Toronto student Shrey Jain is its president and director.



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