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Pandemic Information Overload? U of T Experts Deliver Custom Data to Your Inbox

November 23/2020

Anyone in Ontario can now receive free daily emails with details of COVID-19 cases in their postal codes, thanks to researchers from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and their partners at the website.

The next-generation version of the site includes an interactive open-source monitoring system to support everyone from government decision-makers to the general public. The site allows users to easily filter out unwanted information, focusing on their own neighbourhoods to learn about new cases and percent positivity, testing turnaround times and risk levels.

“What we are seeing in this second wave is how important it is to consider the local situation given how much variation is being seen across the province,” says site co-creator Prof. Laura Rosella of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health (DLSPH). “The ability to provide local insights can both contribute to understanding spread as well as inform more precise mitigation strategies.”

Laura Rosella

Laura Rosella

Rosella, a Big Data and Artificial Intelligence expert, created the site quickly at the beginning of the pandemic with partners including Ali Vahit Esenoy, an adjunct professor at DLSPH’s Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation (IHPME),  Dr. Ben Fine at Trillium Health Partners, Klik Health and software company Red Hat Inc. is an open and transparent collaboration initiative that monitors Ontario’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The automated email – which can be delivered daily or weekly — pulls information from the site based on reporting by local public health units. And for visitors to the site, an intuitive ChatBot pulls up answers to specific questions, ensuring that nobody gets lost looking for information.

To avoid the hassle of signing up or registering to have a personalized experience, the website cleverly uses a “cookie” to remember selected regions important to each visitor, for example where they or a loved one live or work, so their next visit is custom curated.

For people who want to dig deeper on the data, clicking further into the website offers informative visualizations of the summary recap, as well as the ability to manipulate each chart even further. Clicking the playfully-named “Geek Mode” at the top of the site shows the range of the analysis that gets pulled together behind the scenes. This includes critical data such as percent positivity by FSA (which is the first half of a Postal Code), infection source breakdown and socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19.

“As a household decision maker, I now get a tailored view of regions of Ontario that matter to me and my family,” says howsmyflattening’s Prof. Morgan Lim of IHPME. “As a scientist, I get to drill down deep into the data and trends in ‘Geek Mode’. It’s a win-win for me.

#HowsMyFlattening is supported by several DLSPH and IHPME students and alumni as well as a team of volunteer physicians, data scientists, engineers and designers. The project is funded by the University of Toronto COVID Action Initiative and donations from the public and organizations such as HIMSS Ontario.