Memphis city leaders use data from cell phones to track spread of COVID-19

News
This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As the battle against COVID-19 rages on, experts are using new data to evaluate and track the virus.

A data map from SafeGraph, a data company based out of San Francisco, used cell phone tracking to see how each zip code in Memphis is complying with CDC guidelines over a span of weeks.

They’ve given the City of Memphis free access during the pandemic, allowing officials to see what areas are staying home and staying socially distant.

“This data would help see how bad it is in different places, just to see if there are trends in one neighborhood or another,” said Memphis City Council member Dr. Jeff Warren, who is also on the Memphis-Shelby County COVID-19 Joint Task Force.

“The task force, the medical experts, are very excited about this,” said Marc Perrusquia, director of the University of Memphis Institute for Public Service Reporting. “They think it’s going to help with compliance and to save lives, too.”

The map shows people in certain zip codes are staying home less than others, and Memphians seem to be taking the stay-at-home order less seriously as April continues, which could be a dangerous mistake.

“The number of people with this is still going up,” Warren said. “It’s not shooting to the moon like it was when the transmission rate was 5, but it’s still growing.”

The city of Memphis has seen a drop in COVID-19 positivity rates overall, down to a 1.2-to-1 transmission rate, after a 5-to-1 transmission rate when the virus first hit.

It’s informative, but the city is cautious to make sure it’s not too intrusive.

“These are aggregated numbers, so they don’t really know who these people are,” Perrusquia said. “They also emphasize, SafeGraph does, that you can’t use this for contact tracing.”

“The mathematical formula aggregates it in a pool,” Warren said. “You can’t really use it for surveillance. You can use it for societal or group surveillance, but not individually.”

COVID-19 data is still in its infancy as experts learn and as treatment plans evolve.

But every form of data, from daily task force updates to advanced cell phone tracking, shows inequalities in different areas of the Mid-South.

Whether it’s different positivity rates or different levels of stay-at-home effectiveness, the virus isn’t going away without a unified effort.

“We’ve got to get that transmission number to less than one if we want this to get better,” Warren said.

City health experts are targeting a transmission rate of less than 1, meaning every positive patient is transmitting the virus to less than one other resident.

Latest News

More News