April 2020News

Public’s participation sought in predicting COVID-19 hotspots

Data from Daily Coronavirus Survey will provide guidance in allocating resources

Information that is voluntarily supplied by the public is about to be used by CIUSSS West-Central Montreal to help create computer-generated predictions that identify specific neighbourhoods or even blocks where a surge in cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is likely to occur.

This approach has been used in Israel, where computer predictions were accurate in pinpointing potential hotspots earlier this year. Now it is coming to Montreal and, for what is believed to be the first time in Canada, an epidemiological questionnaire is being used to track the coronavirus.

The CIUSSS is turning to members of the public to complete the Daily Coronavirus Survey, a series of online questions on such subjects as the participant’s isolation status, COVID-related symptoms, chronic medical conditions and body temperature. The Survey is available on the CIUSSS website.

This community effort is 100 per cent voluntary and gives people a chance to help the CIUSSS track and prevent the spread of the virus. It provides a real-time look at where symptoms and possible risks may be escalating, as part of a broad, CIUSSS-wide picture.

“The information that people provide can help prevent illness and even save lives.”

Combining the Daily Survey’s constantly updated information with data from other sources will give the CIUSSS a head-start in planning to allocate staff and supplies as the volume of cases changes.

“I’m very encouraged by the prospect of using digital technology in this way to help us in our fight against the coronavirus,” says Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, President and CEO of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal. “Our hope is that we will be able to anticipate the onset of localized outbreaks and plan accordingly, in order to limit the spread of the virus.”

This initiative is overseen by Dr. Justin Cross, the CIUSSS’s Chief Digital Health Officer, who is working closely with Israeli-based Maisha Labs. The company, with offices in Tel Aviv and Montreal, helps organizations to undergo a digital transformation and make more productive use of digital technology to accomplish complex tasks.

The Survey is anonymous and all data will be used solely for tracking the spread of the virus. Although participants are asked for their postal code, their name is not requested, nor are the names of healthcare users included in any of the data that the CIUSSS provides for analysis.

The data will be stored on secure servers within the CIUSSS and will be accessible only to approved personnel. It will be kept for as long as the pandemic lasts, and will then be discarded.

Additional details about the Daily Coronavirus Survey:

  • The questionnaire takes one to three minutes to complete, once a day. It is accessible to anyone with an internet connection on a computer or smartphone.
  • Because of the Survey’s voluntary nature, individuals can end and re-start their participation at any time. However, the data is most useful if it is supplied without interruption.
  • Those who complete one or more questionnaires and then decide not to continue will not receive any reminders to resume their participation. This is because participants are not asked for a phone number or email address.
  • Each questionnaire covers a single person—in other words, one questionnaire for each person in a household. However, just because one person participates doesn’t mean that anyone else in the household has to be involved.
  • Participants do not have to live in CIUSSS West-Central Montreal. Although the area served by the CIUSSS is the focus of attention, information from anywhere in Montreal or beyond is useful.
  • The Survey will continue indefinitely, with questions being revised, added or dropped, depending on the evolution of the pandemic.

“This is a really constructive way for people to help,” Dr. Cross adds. “Even if someone is not allowed to leave home for any reason, the information that they provide can be combined with data from other people to help prevent illness and even to save lives.”

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