A screenshot of the COVID-19 database

Sydney researchers develop NSW COVID-19 hotspot database

15 April 2020
By pinpointing COVID-19 cases by postcode and socio-economic status, the researchers hope to enable the government to easily identify areas at risk of greater community transmission, as well as relax quarantine measures on a postcode-by-postcode basis.

In collaboration with NSW Health, a multidisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Sydney has developed a searchable public database that shows the location of COVID-19 cases in the state.

Led by Associate Professor Adam Kamradt-Scott from the School of Social and Political Sciences, together with Associate Professor Eleanor Bruce from the Faculty of Science  and Associate Professor Adam Dunn from the Faculty of Medicine and Health, the database is aimed at helping the government identify populations who might be at greater risk in the event of more widespread community transmission.

“This database is unique in that it combines NSW Health data with ABS data on, for example, the age and the socio-economic status of people within different postcodes”, Associate Professor Kamradt-Scott, a former and current government adviser on pandemic strategy said. “We hope it can inform state policy responses to COVID-19, including appropriate allocation of resources.”

Understanding geographical differences in socio-economic disadvantage is important for supporting vulnerable communities
Associate Professor Eleanor Bruce

“Understanding geographical differences in socio-economic disadvantage is important for supporting vulnerable communities,” Associate Professor Bruce added. 

The database, which is updated daily, also has the potential to assist authorities to create more detailed maps to support the allocation of resources in advance.

“My hope is that we will be able to look at how testing was deployed across the state to learn lessons about how we might next time use more targeted behaviour interventions to avoid much of the social, economic, and mental health harms caused by blanket policies that disproportionately burden vulnerable and marginalised communities,” Dr Dunn said.

A screenshot of the USYD COVID-19 database

Potential to aid quarantine relaxation measures

The date of the last recorded case in each postcode will also be viewable. This can assist the government in making decisions around potentially relaxing social distancing and other COVID-19 containment measures in discrete, safe areas.

“There will be a minimum of 28 days of no or small transmission that will have to have elapsed before an area is possibly cleared for relaxation. The hope is that this process will enable the state to begin to get back to normal,” Associate Professor Kamradt-Scott said.

Balancing data transparency with privacy

Dr Dunn explained why data transparency – a feature of the database – is critical in crisis communications: “Making it easier for the public to see the number of cases in the places where they live and work will help to reduce anxiety in the community as we begin to return to normal and reopen businesses, schools, and borders.”

“Handling this data with care and respecting the privacy of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 is also our priority.”

Loren Smith

Assistant Media Adviser (Humanities)

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