UW researchers have begun mapping zip codes to determine the susceptibility of different counties to COVID-19

According to the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health’s website, SMPH is providing data by a zip code pertaining to how “at risk” a community is to COVID-19.

Risk factors are used to estimate the number of residents in that zip code who could potentially develop severe complications from the disease. These risk factors come from the Center for Disease Control and include old age, asthma and obesity, among others.

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SMPH said the maps were created by the Health Innovation Program, an initiative from the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

The program worked together with the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Qualitya network of Wisconsin physicians — to piece together data regarding Wisconsin’s at-risk populations and create the maps.

SMPH said the data will be used to help aid health care organizations in their decision on how personal protective equipment is distributed to healthcare workers. 

The maps can also be used to improve community response. At-risk populations may need increased resources like grocery delivery or testing. With these maps, the at-risk communities can be easily recognized and targeted.

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According to SMPH, the reports have been made available to health care professionals through the Wisconsin Public Health Research Network, the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality and the Neighborhood Health Partnerships program.

The maps can be viewed by the public at the Health Innovation Program’s website.

The maps highlight zip codes by their risk factor. Risk factors are shown by the percentage of adults 18-85 who exhibit two or more risk factors for severe complications with COVID-19. Percentage is highlighted by color and ranges from less than 15% to over 35%. 

The Health Innovative Program’s website highlights that this resource can only be used to show health outcomes and may not tell the whole story at times.

Without the identification of root causes, the user may make untrue conclusions about the community using the data set. Instead this data set has to be used in coordination with other knowledge to draw accurate conclusions of root causes of underlying conditions, the website said. 

The Health Innovative Program website also points out that these data sets are limited by their sources. Some people may not have access to healthcare systems, and some healthcare systems are not allowed to share data. Because of this, some zip codes or counties may not accurately reflect the population.