MANKATO — Mayo Clinic recently unveiled a new COVID-19 tracking tool, which could soon include information to help people anticipate future cases on a county-by-county level.
The health-care provider announced the tool, available on its website, in mid-September. The page currently shows county-level case counts, cases per day and changes over time, along with state and national data.
One of the leaders involved in developing the tool said county-level predictive data will be added in the near future.
The modeling has been used internally by Mayo to anticipate potential surges, falls or plateaus of cases at hospitals, said Dr. Henry Ting, Mayo Clinic’s chief value officer.
“Over the (last) six months it’s accurately predicted the rise in cases and hospitalizations,” he said. “It’s been helpful to our leadership to understand what’s going on and where the hotspots are accruing.”
Mayo Clinic provides the information to Gov. Tim Walz’s office and the Minnesota Department of Health, but one of the next steps is to make it more publicly accessible. Publicly available predictive data has been hard to come by at a county level during the pandemic, especially in comparison to other models with state or national focuses.
Another difference with Mayo’s model, according to Ting, would be how its parameters and variables aren’t constant. They can be adjusted on a daily basis so erroneous assumptions aren’t propagated for weeks and months into the future, he said.
The model also uses data from cell phones, Facebook and Google to help with its predictions. It can identify when certain counties have a spike in Google searches for COVID tests, for instance, or whether cities appear to have a rush of visitors to the local mall.
“We incorporate all of those elements into our model to try to enhance the model and try to predict what is happening on the ground,” Ting said.
Beyond its utility for health leaders, Mayo’s announcement of the model touted how it could help individuals understand more about ongoing or emerging hotspots across the country. It pointed out how people would be able to look into what the COVID situation is like where their loved ones reside, or provide someone who needs to travel a heads-up about the place they’re headed so they can assess the risks and plan accordingly.
As of Monday, the tool showed a change-over-time map with Blue Earth, Waseca and Martin counties shading deeper blue as September continued. Darker shades of blue indicate a higher number of cases per day.
The trend captured in the map aligns with state health stats showing higher case totals in recent weeks for the three counties, especially in Waseca and Martin counties. State health officials on Monday again spoke about how funerals and weddings are among the gatherings causing outbreaks, including at a previously reported funeral in Martin County which has been linked to dozens of cases.
“We’re seeing more and more instances where we have large groups gathering together with little or no social distancing and no masking,” said Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director. “All of those events are contributing to our case numbers.”
Encouragingly, Mayo’s tracking tool shows downward trending positive test rates and fatality rates for Minnesota overall. The positive test rate dropped from 5.07% to 4.88% over the last month. Over the same time span, the state’s COVID fatality rate dipped from 2.49% to 2.08%.
The tool also currently lists COVID information and recommendations from Mayo Clinic experts. County-level predictions and more features could be added within weeks, according to Ting.
“We hope to provide trusted, scientific information to the general public so they can make better informed decisions,” he said.