Facebook launches interactive COVID-19 map showing number of people reporting symptoms by county

Facebook launched an interactive map on Monday that shows how many people have reported experiencing COVID-19 symptoms by county, a tool that CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the platform is “uniquely suited” to run based on its billions of users across the globe.

The map uses data collected by a survey that Facebook started distributing to its users in the United States. The survey, conducted by health researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, asks people if they have symptoms such as fevers, coughing, shortness of breath or loss of smell — all symptoms associated with COVID-19.

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The interactive map shows an estimated percentage of people with COVID-19 symptoms in a week in any given county. Facebook notes that these are not confirmed cases.

“Since experiencing symptoms is a precursor to becoming more seriously ill, this survey can help forecast how many cases hospitals will see in the days ahead and provide an early indicator of where the outbreak is growing and where the curve is being successfully flattened,” Zuckerberg wrote in an op-ed published Monday in The Washington Post.

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Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have received approximately 1 million survey responses a week in the United States. Facebook said it doesn’t see the individual survey responses, only aggregated data.

Zuckerberg called the results of the survey “promising,” adding that it correlates with publicly available data on confirmed cases and that it suggests the data can help predict where the disease will spread.

“Better data can help governments determine where to send resources such as ventilators and personal protective equipment — and eventually which areas are safe to start opening up again,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Facebook plans to update its county-by-county map daily throughout the outbreak and to expand the survey globally.

Zuckerberg said the team at Carnegie Mellon is also building an application programming interface, more commonly known as an API, that will let researchers everywhere access these results.

“We’re hopeful that this will help governments and public health officials around the world who might not otherwise have this kind of precise data to make decisions in the weeks and months ahead,” he wrote.

Zuckerberg concluded: “The world has faced pandemics before, but this time we have a new superpower: the ability to gather and share data for good.”

This story was reported from Cincinnati.