Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been clear that data is fundamental to understanding and mitigating the spread of the virus. Now, as we chart our path out of the pandemic, data integration has never been more important as medical teams and public health officials distribute vaccines and help guide local, state and federal leaders on reopening schools, retail, entertainment venues, and the broader economy.
Tracking the spread of disease was the most important use of data at the beginning of the pandemic as public health officials identified COVID hotspots and could funnel essential supplies like ventilators, PPE, and even medical staff to the hardest hit cities and counties. Recently, as vaccine supplies have become available, understanding vaccine distribution data to remedy over-supply or under-supply has become a priority. And now, attention is turning to using data to understand where herd immunity might already exist or be possible.
At a recent event hosted by Qlik, Mark Meersman, founder and managing partner at IPC Global, which helps enterprises leverage best-of-breed data analytics platforms to solve today’s most pressing challenges, shared that the ability to combine multiple data sources is essential to fighting COVID-19. “Since the beginning of COVID, we began tracking [the virus] with the help of several data sources including data from the CDC, Johns Hopkins, Department of Education among others,” explained Meersman. “Every night at midnight our Qlik platform wakes up, gathers data from multiple places, integrates, de-normalizes, preps, and publishes this information for all of us. We can look at those trends and understand where cases and deaths are still rising and where cases and deaths are going down.”
And this broad-based insight built on data from multiple sources is important when it comes to guiding policymakers and officials. For example, the subject of when to re-open schools is a highly-charged issue as we enter the recovery phase of the pandemic. Instead of being left to make decisions based on emotion, IPC was able to advise officials based on data. “When it got to the point where officials wanted to reopen schools, we were able to bring in data from the Department of Education about where schools are physically located,” noted Meersman. “Then we were able to layer on top of that data from the CDC related to social vulnerability and then add in COVID-19 case data.”
Meersman went on to explain in more detail using the example of Arlington County in Northern Virginia. “We mapped every school in Arlington based on Department of Education data and combined that with US Census data about overall population and CDC data about how many social vulnerabilities affect that area,” he explained. “This integrated data-driven insight enabled officials to make informed decisions about protocols and how they relate to the areas teachers, administrators, and students so that schools could re-open safely.”
As more localities and states prepare to re-open as conditions improve and as vaccines are distributed being able to make data-driven decisions will assume a new level of importance. However, what will provide the most comprehensive insight and the most informed decisions will be generated by the ability to tap into high-quality data that has been sourced from multiple reputable organizations to provide an overarching view of a situation. The ability to automate data integration that can produce reliable insight quickly and reliably is an essential part of charting our way out of the pandemic and into the new normal that lies beyond.