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Despite the alarmingly fast rate of the spread of the coronavirus, it is still being managed much better than previous pandemics such as the SARS outbreak in 2003, the ebola epidemic in 2014-2016, and the Zika virus in 2015. One of the reasons is a combination of advanced technology and big data. These tools are being used to track, analyze, and curb the virus's spread in various ways. Real-time forecasts and heatmaps are being developed, which helps government officials and citizens deal with the coronavirus. The mass number of people being infected by the coronavirus and the fast integration of tracking data through apps and healthcare systems have created large databases. As a result, big data has come to the forefront of this pandemic and how it is managed.
Let's look at how big data surged and some examples of how it is being used in this pandemic.
With the masses of data being collected (such as travel movements, medical history) just in the past year, there are several ways it can be used:
As fast as the coronavirus has spread, big data technology has kept up with the pace. There have been several success stories of how it has been used. Below are just a few of them:
The World Health Organization (WHO)
Large scale dashboards are being generated to keep track of the coronavirus. These are valuable for everyday citizens and journalists to use and for government officials to make decisions and build models of how to counteract the virus. The WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard uses an almost endless amount of data points to keep an up to date dashboard to show confirmed cases and deaths. These dashboards help regulate government policies, such as whether to return to work and schools and the allocation of funds to the respective healthcare systems.
During the coronavirus outbreak in China, there was a high expectancy that Taiwan would be equally as affected due to its geographical closeness to China and regular back and forth travel. However, that is far from the case, and Taiwan has only had less than 900 confirmed cases of citizens who contracted the coronavirus. The Taiwanese government took active steps to use data at the forefront of its strategy to curb the spread. They use the national health insurance database alongside immigration and customs data. Through the cross-referencing of these two databases, they were able to identify anyone that may have been affected, anyone that might show symptoms, and isolate those that traveled to corona-infected countries. They developed a hotline for anyone to report anonymously to citizens who show the corona symptoms and created a tracking app to report any health symptoms.
The rapid rate of infection caused the overflow for many hospitals, and the number of patients they were able to accommodate. Hospitals were inadequately equipped to deal with these numbers of patients. In response to this, Definitive Healthcare based in the US developed a tool to manage big data and monitor and track the use of hospital beds. The interactive platform served two purposes. Firstly, it analyzed US hospital bed capacity and showed the number of licensed beds, staff beds, ICUs available in a real-time capacity. Secondly, it indicated the geographical risks of areas in the US. This helped with the redistribution of patients or beds. The data stored and analyzed in this app has been tremendously helpful in informing healthcare budgets and informing officials where additional beds could be accommodated.
The above-mentioned examples are several thousands of successful cases using big data to curb the spread of the virus. There are likely to be much more significant developments with the rollout of the vaccine. Texas A&M University researcher by Dr. Ali Mosta, who developed a model using artificial intelligence and big data to predict COVID-19 outbreaks, stated that: "Significant opportunities exist using these big data and AI to contain the existing pandemic and also better prepare and mitigate the future pandemics."
This is a clear indication that despite the advancement in technology and big data in the past year, this is merely the beginning. Big data aids the fight against the coronavirus to support modeling efforts to predict the pandemic's general flow and alert potential outbreaks. However, it is also effective for helping everyday citizens safeguard themselves against a deadly virus.
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