Home for the Holidays: Know the Travel Risks Before You Go

This story was originally published by Zoe Kafkes on the website of the School of City & Regional Planning.

As Covid-19 outbreaks surge in several states, the choice to see family this holiday season gets more complicated by the day. Thankfully, there’s a tool—developed by Georgia Tech faculty, scientists, GIS specialists, and graduate students—that can help estimate the potential risk of exposure involved with a trip home for a turkey dinner. 

Joshua S. Weitz, Patton Distinguished Professor in the School of Biological Sciences, and Clio Andris, assistant professor in the Schools of City and Regional Planning and Interactive Computing, created the “Covid-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool.”

They launched the tool in July, and since then it has generated more than 2 million unique visitors, been featured in national and international media, and spurred the development of related sites in Spanish and Italian. A multi-authored scientific article describing the tool was published in Nature Human Behaviour on November 9, 2020.

“We are starting to see the traffic ramp up again as people plan for the holidays,” Andris said.

A Useful Spatial Tool

The tool breaks down the risk of attending events, no matter the size, based on county-level Covid-19 case reports in the U.S. and parts of Europe. Users can select the county they are interested in and the size of the event they wish to attend.

Weitz, the founding director of Tech’s Quantitative Biosciences Graduate Program, and an ardent Atlanta United fan, was having trouble deciding whether or not to go to a home game when the Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta reopened after the Covid-19 lockdown.

He developed a statistical model based on the odds of encountering one infected individual amongst many. Weitz quickly realized that the model would also be useful in the form of an interactive map.

“I reached out to Andris, given her expertise in spatial visualization and analysis,” he said. 

“Clio and I were already collaborating on modeling Covid-19 epidemic spread in Georgia. I knew she would be an ideal partner, particularly given the strong visualization background of her team of Master of Science in Geographic Information Science and Technology students.”

Andris’ Friendly Cities Lab works on a number of Covid-19 projects meant to assist cities and the people that live in them. 

“At that point in the summer, and even now, the Covid-19 case rates change based on location,” she said. “Early on, people only had national-level data, and we wanted to drill down to the county level. This allows people to decide whether to attend an event based on the risk level in their locality.”

While the interactive tool works well for large-scale events, users can also select smaller event sizes like 10 or 15 people—the size of many family gatherings during the holidays. 

Read the rest of the story on the website of the School of City and Regional Planning.

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