COVID Act Now mapping project predicts when hospitals in your area will be overwhelmed

The project’s creators hope it will be used for swift planning by politicians and public health officials.

Misha Friedman/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Fighting the spread of COVID-19 isn’t just about individuals staying home and dousing everything in hand sanitizer — high-level planning by politicians and health officials is also pivotal to ending the pandemic. The COVID Act Now project maps the potential impact the novel coronavirus may have on regional hospitals, in the hope of providing assistance in quick, thoughtful planning by U.S. leaders.

A small team of epidemiologists, data scientists, designers, engineers, political leaders, and public health officials created the map to make clear just how detrimental the COVID-19 pandemic will be across the country. Though the tool brings with it some limitations, it accomplishes its goal of being clear and concise — now we cross our fingers that those in power take notice.

Yes, it’s not perfect — This map has a few limitations, not the least of which is that it does not take into account numbers of available ventilators and ICU beds in each region. Many of the map’s other shortcomings are due to the unpredictability of the novel coronavirus. Its creators acknowledge these limitations and make it clear for public viewers that the map is not meant to predict the future.

Outlook: not so great.

The COVID Act Now map is useful in exactly the ways its creators hoped it would be: in succinctly visualizing how the spread of COVID-19 will affect area hospitals given a variety of scenarios. For each state, the map presents a graph of expected hospitalizations versus the number of available hospital beds at a given time. The point at which hospitals are overwhelmed changes based on the state’s self-isolation and social distancing practices.

Tech for public good — In a time when the good of society often comes with the price of personal privacy, it’s refreshing to see tech being leveraged for uncomplicated public good. COVID-19 is spreading with unprecedented speed, and we can only rely so much on lawmakers and others in power to make quick decisions on our behalf. This is the best type of innovation: clear in purpose and exacting in its implementation.

That’s why projects like COVID Act Now are of the utmost importance, leveraging the power of modern data-collection and interdisciplinary research to keep the general public — and those in power — knowledgeable. The project’s best asset is its simplicity. We can only hope its message is delivered to people who can make policy decisions to protect the rest of us.