University of Sydney database tracks COVID-19 cases

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Fighting an unseen enemy like COVID-19 has just been made a little easier, with a public database revealing the location of all cases across New South Wales (NSW).

Developed by a multidisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Sydney in collaboration with NSW Health, the database is aimed at helping the government identify populations which might be at greater risk of the virus.

Associate Professor Adam Kamradt-Scott, from the School of Social and Political Sciences, said the database was unique.

“It combines NSW Health data with Australian Bureau of Statistics data on, for example, the age and the socio-economic status of people within different postcodes,” he said.

“We hope it can inform state policy responses to COVID-19 including appropriate allocation of resources.”

Professor Adam Dunn, from the Faculty of Medicine and Health, said it could also be used for targeted COVID-19 testing.

“My hope is that we will be able to look at how testing was deployed across the state to learn lessons about how we might next time use more targeted behaviour interventions to avoid much of the social, economic and mental health harms caused by blanket policies that disproportionately burden vulnerable and marginalised communities,” Dr Dunn said.

Associate Professor Eleanor Bruce, from the Faculty of Science, said the database would be updated daily, helping authorities create detailed maps to support the allocation of resources.

“Understanding geographical differences in socio-economic disadvantage is important for supporting vulnerable communities,” Associate Professor Bruce said.

The date of the last recorded case in each postcode across the state would also be a feature of the database, which could assist the government in making decisions around potentially relaxing social distancing and other COVID-19 containment measures in discrete, safe areas.

“There will be a minimum of 28 days of no or small transmission that will have to have elapsed before an area is possibly cleared for relaxation,” Associate Professor Kamradt-Scott said.

“The hope is that this process will enable the state to begin to get back to normal.”

Dr Dunn said data transparency was critical in crisis communications.

“Making it easier for the public to see the number of cases in the places where they live and work will help to reduce anxiety in the community as we begin to return to normal and reopen businesses, schools and borders,” he said.

“Handling this data with care and respecting the privacy of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 is also our priority.”

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