‘Improve their awareness of danger’: UW-Madison Ph.D. student creates COVID-19 data dashboard

MADISON, Wis. – As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and UW-Madison Geography Ph.D. student Atlas Guo wants to get that power in the hands of Madison-area residents.

He’s created desktop and mobile versions of a COVID-19 data dashboard, mapping out positive cases in relation to population by census track and laying out other relevant information in charts and graphs.

“It will be good to help improve their awareness of danger,” Guo said. “It’s extremely helpful to see the spatial patterns because of the really worse conditions these days. In the recent one or two weeks, things got really bad.”

He said that’s especially the case on campus and downtown, where officials are pointing to UW-Madison students for recent outbreaks. On Thursday, Dane County saw its highest single-day increase with 456 new cases.

“Today’s value is shocking,” Guo said. “Things got extremely bad here.”

On Wednesday, UW officials instructed students living in Sellery and Witte residence halls to quarantine for two weeks.

Guo’s map shows that the residence halls’ census tract has had 312 positive cases, which equates to nearly 43 cases per thousand residents. The census tract currently in the worst shape based on positive cases in relation to population is nearby, encompassing the Langdon St. Greek row area, where there are 846 recorded positive cases, or nearly 135 per thousand people. With a population of 6,268, that equates to about 13.5% having tested positive for the virus.

“(Of) every eight people, there will be one with (a) positive case,” Guo said. “That’s the highest.”

Guo uses daily data from the Department of Health Services, which also maps its data throughout the state using various metrics.

Looking specifically at Dane County and the greater Madison area, Guo said he’s noticed in general that “the east part of the Madison area or Dane county is worse than the west, and the south is also worse than the north.”

However, he said central Madison looks the worst. To summarize, he said the most severe regions are census tracts include the Langdon St. tract north of State St., along with the tract to its south, where the prevalence rate of someone having tested positive is about one in 12. After that, he pointed to the region near Camp Randall, as well as south of the Beltline around Lake Monona.

While he cautioned against over-generalizations, he said this data can empower individuals when making decisions.

“For example, if you have to go buy food, groceries, and you have choices, it’s better to go to an area with lower risk,” Guo said. “For people living in high risk areas, it’s better to stay home as much as possible.”

Guo has also added the locations of residence halls and apartment complexes to the map, originally designing the dashboard with the Chinese community in mind to give Chinese students’ parents a snapshot of where their children were staying.

Now he wants the free app in the hands of as many people as possible, which he sees as an example of the Wisconsin Idea.

“We really want to put what we do, what we learn in the university, to serve our local communities,” Guo said.

Guo is currently completing the semester remotely in Georgia but said he has plenty of friends still in Madison and updates the map every day.

The desktop version the dashboard can be found here, while the mobile version can be found here. Guo hopes they can be used in coordination with other resources, such as the DHS website, Public Health Madison & Dane County’s website and UW’s Smart Restart dashboard.

In the future, Guo plans to add a historical layer to his dashboard so users can see trends over the past couple weeks. He would also like to display testing site locations.