The Problem: How to minimize the devastating economic impact of public health disasters
The COVID-19 pandemic opened up everyone’s eyes to the fact that the world was ill-prepared to deal with a global health disaster of this magnitude. Every country—with the exception of Sweden—has relied on a patchwork quilt of lockdowns, curfews, business closures, and other health, safety, and movement restrictions to contain the virus’ spread. This wreaked absolute havoc on businesses—and, therefore, the livelihoods and mental health of hundreds of millions of people—across every industry imaginable.
Unfortunately, up until now, these measures had to be employed by public health officials at rather drastic levels to manage a rapidly unfolding and spreading public health disaster. But the team at HSR.health knew that relying solely on large-scale and blanket tactics was no longer good enough. It was time to bring disease tracking and health risk mitigation into the digital age.
The Problem-Solver: HSR.health
HSR.health is the leading provider of health-focused spatial data analytics in the world. Built by dedicated and talented clinicians, geospatial engineers, public health analysts, and data scientists, the company is on a bold mission to “wield technology’s wonders to raise healthcare’s quality and lower its costs,” as inspired by President Obama’s inaugural address.
They do this by transforming data into knowledge to enable action via their proprietary AI-enabled geospatial platform that can provide valuable health risk analytics to businesses across multiple industries. Their GeoHealth Platform combines machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), and both statistical and epidemiological modeling to identify the key Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) that influence health risks—and then use those insights to minimize the operational and economic impact of health disasters.
In short, HSR.health is pioneering foundational, life-changing work that can fundamentally transform how the world responds to future pandemics and other health crises.
The Challenge: Providing accurate business-level insights around real-time virus spread
HSR.health set out to find a way to help the world avoid potential economic downfall should strict containment measures need to be put into place during a public health disaster. But they also knew that economies shutting down is really only one part of the problem.
“Our organization equates economic devastation with broader health issues,” explained Ajay Gupta, HSR.health CEO. “Public health disasters have a real human impact. When economies crumble, the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of those affected can also crumble.”
The absence of clear data and insights to help public health officials make better, more informed decisions that could potentially avoid sweeping lockdowns—at least, as the default option in mitigating a virus’ spread—was both a challenge and an opportunity. It was abundantly clear that businesses played a role in virus propagation. However, knowing that no two businesses are the same and, as a result, are not subject to the same dynamics potentially fueling virus spread, the team at HSR.health got to work building the Business Risk Index (BRI).
The primary goal of this new tool was to provide public health decision-makers with actionable, business-level insights to help develop targeted policies—including business-specific lockdowns, capacity restrictions, and enhanced social distancing guidelines—that could minimize the human and economic disruptions caused by COVID-19 or other future public health crises. This was built on the belief that decision-makers must have the right information at their fingertips to be able to strike a balance between keeping the economy going and keeping people safe. After all, widespread business closures, especially those levied in a blanketed fashion, often lead to increases in unemployment, supply chain disruptions, and mental health issues.
In summary, HSR.health wanted to create a surefire way to pinpoint (potential) COVID-19 hotspots, at the business- or point of interest-level, within any Census Block Group (CBG), giving public officials a more informed and proactive way to mitigate virus spread without having to enact sweeping health and safety measures that could end up doing more harm than good.
The Solution: SafeGraph Places and Geometry Data
The HSR.health team needed more than just publicly available mobility data to create a clearer link between how COVID-19 was spreading within and between CBGs and the various points of interest (POIs) that the people living in those CBGs frequented. Fortunately, SafeGraph Places, Geometry, and Patterns datasets could help add more depth to general mobility data.
“Open source data alone couldn’t give us a complete view,” said Christopher Woloshyn, Data Scientist at HSR.health. “However, SafeGraph data filled in those gaps, allowing us to have a more holistic and granular view around foot traffic patterns, in-store dwell time, visitor density, and a POI’s physical dimensions—all of which are critical for providing accurate POI-level insights that could prevent businesses from becoming epicenters of virus spread.”
Using SafeGraph’s datasets as the backbone of the BRI, HSR.health could now offer public health officials an interactive dashboard that has the ability to:
- Identify POI hotspots for potential secondary disease transmission or community spread.
- Provide clear and accurate statistics around total visits, average dwell time, and the number of transmissions at each POI at the county level and across different business categories.
- Show total monthly visits to POIs to shine a spotlight on the most-visited POIs or business categories to paint a clearer picture around consumer mobility.
“All of this information is critical for helping us know which business locations are largely contributing to disease transmission,” continued Woloshyn. “With the BRI, we can not only rank each business location based on its perceived transmission risk but also begin to calculate the number of potential transmissions happening at the business-level based on density levels.”
For example, when a business seems to be densely occupied by consumers—in relation to its overall footprint—it can offer a sign about where social distancing measures are being respected as well as where additional measures can be implemented to slow down virus spread. Similarly, it can also pinpoint the POIs, such as specific locations of a grocery store chain, most visited by consumers traveling from CBGs where disease transmission is high and, thus, most likely to become the locations most responsible for growing transmission rates.
The Result: Helping public health officials make better decisions during virus outbreaks
The benefit of the Business Risk Index is resoundingly clear. Public health officials now have access to actionable, real-time insights at the business level that can help make better decisions about how to mitigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—and any other future virus outbreaks (including the annual flu season)— without bringing the economy to a screeching halt.
“We don’t want the BRI to be seen as yet another mechanism for making the case to shut businesses down,” reiterated Gupta. “Rather, we want public health officials to use the data and insights now available to them as an entry point for working collaboratively with businesses to slow down a virus’ spread. This is truly a game changer for public health management.”
The BRI expands HSR.health’s health risk analytics related to disease transmission within the built environment, including offices, schools, aircrafts, and more. It is also a key component of the company’s broader Disease Surveillance and Intervention Solution (DSIS) initiative, aimed at catching the early warning signs of endemic and emerging diseases in order to coordinate global resources early on, well before an outbreak spirals out of control into a full-fledged pandemic.
Our work in developing the Business Risk Index gives us a better and more scalable model for responding to any infectious disease outbreak without having to put local, state, and national economies into a disastrous free fall.