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Published on April 14, 2020

A new tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on Cape Cod

COVID-19 Heat Map

Barnstable County residents are the first in the state to have an online tool that tracks the hot spots of coronavirus cases in our region. Cape Cod’s new COVID-19 Community Alert System Heat Map is a joint effort among Cape Cod Healthcare, the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment and the Cape Cod Commission.

“This is a community alert system and an effort to prevent transmission by sharing information with the public as to which regions on the Cape have what level of positive cases,” said Kumara Sidhartha, MD, MPH, Medical Director of the Cape Cod Healthcare ACO. “I see it as a kind of GPS for navigating our lives during the pandemic – and to limit the spread of infection. It allows people to make informed decisions.”

The Heat Map was developed using cutting-edge technology provided by the Cape Cod Commission. It uses a color-coded system – yellow, orange and red – to indicate the outbreak level in the postal zip codes and at sub-regional levels within Barnstable County (Lower, Outer, Mid, and Upper Cape regions). Zip code level data is included only for the towns which agreed to be part of this approach.

COVID-19 community alert heatmap system is available on the following websites:

  • Cape Cod Commission: https://capecodcommission.org/our-work/cape-cod-covid19
  • Cape Cod Healthcare: https://www.capecodhealth.org/covid-cases
  • Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment: https://www.barnstablecountyhealth.org/case-numbers-and-figures

How It Works

The following methodology and criteria are set to upgrade or downgrade risk level using dynamic data, as in the number of new cases in a region or zip code and any related trends:

  • Yellow is set to indicate moderate risk for transmission of infection, with no new cases reported for three days.
  • Orange indicates high risk and refers to sporadic increase in number of new cases (fewer than 10) in the previous 24 hours.
  • Red indicates a high number of new cases (greater than 10 per day for three consecutive days) or an emergence of case clusters as defined by W.H.O. (for regions, the criteria of greater than 10 new cases per day for three days needs to occur in at least two towns to be flagged as red).

The site will publish daily counts of positive COVID-19 cases and total cases to date, by Barnstable County zip codes for the towns that are participating in this program. The process was carefully vetted by CCHC legal experts to ensure it is compliant with HIPAA, the federal patient privacy law, and other applicable laws.

“The goal is to prevent the transmission of infection within the community by empowering individuals with the knowledge of where the hot spots are with regard to infection and what precautionary steps they can take to protect themselves, their loved ones and their community,” Dr. Sidhartha said.

In addition to the Heat Map, the site also provides CDC information on the steps people can take to prevent COVID-19 infection.

The de-identified data used for the maps is provided by the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod’s (VNA) Public Health Division and the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment. The VNA Public Health Division acts as the town nurse for 12 of the 15 towns on Cape Cod. Barnstable County’s Public Nurse Division acts as the town nurse for the other three towns: Barnstable, Sandwich and Provincetown.

A Public Health Strategy

Dr. Sidhartha, an internal medicine physician who holds a Master’s Degree in Public Health, proposed the development of the county-wide heat map as part of a comprehensive public health approach during a pandemic.

“At the core of this effort are some of the successful strategies used in public health practices around the globe that have shown success in controlling COVID-19,” he said.

This strategy of regularly updating the public about new cases has been successfully used to reduce COVID-19 transmission in Singapore and Taiwan, one of the very few successful models in this pandemic, he added.

The first part of the two-part strategy is testing and follow-up communication with all known contacts of patients who test positive for the disease. For the last several weeks, the CCHC testing center at Cape Cod Community College, as well as Cape Cod Hospital and Falmouth Hospital, have been testing Cape residents suspected of having COVID-19.

Along with the testing, the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod’s Public Health Division and county health department, using data provided daily by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, have been tracking and communicating with all patients who tested positive and their known contacts. Patients and their contacts are monitored daily as to their health and whether they are showing symptoms of COVID-19.

The second part of the strategy is to communicate with the public, on an ongoing basis, about where the positive tests are located, and provide evidence-based guidance on taking precautions to prevent infection, said Dr. Sidhartha. The Cape Cod Heat Map serves that purpose.

“Crisis communication, done responsibly and transparently, with regular updates and guidance to take precautions serves as an effective tool to protect the community during pandemics,” he added.

Dr. Sidhartha noted that, as of April 14, the numbers of death for the three countries, measured in per million in population, were:

  • U.S.: 77
  • Singapore: 1.5
  • Taiwan: 0.25

“Sharing data saves lives,” he said.