Facebook's county-by-county maps show where Americans are reporting COVID-19 symptoms

Facebook's county-by-county maps show where Americans are reporting COVID-19 symptoms
Posted at 1:14 PM, Apr 20, 2020

PITTSBURGH, Penn. – Facebook released its first county-by-county maps Monday that show where Americans have reported experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

The maps are based on aggregate data from a survey that Facebook users voluntarily take part in. The social media platform is working with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) to update the maps daily throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Each day, Facebook invites some of its U.S. users to voluntarily answer the CMU survey about any COVID-19 symptoms they might be experiencing. The survey is controlled by CMU and individual responses are not shared with Facebook. Likewise, Google is helping CMU distribute one-question surveys to its users and results also are not shared with the company.

Thus far, CMU says it’s receiving about 1 million responses per week from Facebook users. Last week, almost 600,000 users of the Google Opinion Rewards and AdMob apps were answering another CMU survey each day. Most of the data sources are available on a county level and the researchers say they have good coverage of the 601 U.S. counties with at least 100,000 people.

Carnegie Mellon says the self-reported descriptions of COVID-19-related symptoms correlate well with test-confirmed cases of the disease, suggesting self-reports might soon help the researchers in predicting COVID-19 activity in the U.S.

Ryan Tibshirani, co-leader of Carnegie Mellon's Delphi COVID-19 Response Team, says the survey responses combined with other data will enable the team to generate estimates of disease activity that are more reflective of reality than what is now available from positive COVID-19 tests alone.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement that understanding how COVID-19 is spreading is critical for local governments and public health officials as they allocate scarce resources like ventilators and PPE, and eventually to decide when it is safe to start re-opening different places.

“Researchers believe these symptom survey maps can be an important tool in making these decisions,” said Zuckerberg.

Next, Facebook plans to start running these surveys globally this week.

“This will allow us to expand the symptom maps to provide county-by-county data across almost every country in the world where Facebook operates,” said Zuckerberg.