Data in Action: The COVID Local Risk Index

Sep. 22, 2020

Samantha Breslin

COVID-19 has upended lives and neighborhoods, continuing to threaten our communities and bring new uncertainties as cities relax social distancing guidelines, employees head back to the office, and schools re-open around the country for the fall. This is especially true for low-income and minority communities where many are struggling to keep family members healthy, secure steady jobs and housing, and find time to take on more childcare or the role of teacher themselves.

The COVID Local Risk Index

To meet the urgent needs of city leaders in this unprecedented time, we added a new metric to the Dashboard this past June: the COVID Local Risk Index (the Index). Available at the city and neighborhood-level for the 500 largest U.S. cities on the Dashboard, the Index measures the potential for COVID infection (ex. number of COVID cases) and risk for more severe COVID outcomes (ex. hospitalizations) among residents within cities and neighborhoods. The Index is based on social and economic factors, including over-crowded housing, educational attainment, income, and the distributions of age, race/ethnicity, and underlying health conditions relevant to COVID-19, including obesity, chronic kidney disease, and high blood pressure. It uses local data to estimate risk levels and was designed to be comparable across cities and neighborhoods.

Our goal for providing this important information was to help city leaders, policymakers, and public health officials better understand the virus’s potential impact on local communities and support them as they target scarce resources, including testing and preventative measures, towards the neighborhoods with the highest need.

The Data in Action

Since releasing the Index, articles from news outlets across the country have explored these data, offering insightful local context and interesting on-the-ground applications that may be useful to cities or practitioners hoping to leverage the data in their own work. We have collected these stories on our Stories and News page and are sharing a few below:

  • These Maps Show How Drastically COVID-19 Risk Varies By Neighborhood By, Jamie Ducharme TIME

    TIME mapped three pairs of neighboring cities, Boston and Cambridge in Massachusetts, Miami and Miami Gardens in Florida, and Los Angeles and Burbank in California, to illustrate how factors like race and poverty may affect the risk of disease within and across cities. Each of the larger cities had at least one neighborhood with an Index score of 1 and one neighborhood with an Index score of 10, compared to their smaller counterparts where neighborhood scores were closer together. Though there was less variation in risk in the smaller cities, that did not always mean lower risk. For example, in Miami Gardens, every neighborhood has an Index score of at least 7. Additionally, across all six of the cities explored in the article, wealthy, whiter neighborhoods generally had lower scores on the Index.

  • City residents urged to get COVID-19 test, remain vigilant with masks, social distancing Manchester Ink Link

    As the city of Manchester, NH began to re-open businesses and recreational activities, the health department and Manchester Emergency Operations Center encouraged all residents to wear cloth masks when outside or out of the home. Included in the recommendation was a call for residents living in neighborhoods with elevated risk, as identified by the Dashboard, to undergo a COVID-19 diagnostic test. The health department connected these residents to sites where testing was available in those neighborhoods.

  • How Geographic Data Supports Population Health During COVID-19 By, Jessica Kent Health IT Analytics

    When making the case for more funding or resources to decision-makers or policymakers during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, geographic data is a useful tool. Using the Index and other granular data platforms can help governments and organizations determine best practices when it comes to social distancing and re-opening guidelines, as well as equip them with the information they need to make urgent decisions when time is limited.

  • How Lowcountry cities, organizations use COVID-19 data to help those in need By, Abbey O’Brien 5 WCSC

    The City of Charleston, SC as well as the Trident United Way are using the Dashboard’s maps and other metrics to coordinate care and outreach toward high-risk areas identified by the site. For the city government’s health and wellness team, the Dashboard’s many metrics have been able to place COVID risk in context with other health concerns of these neighborhoods in order to help them set priorities. The Trident United Way is using the tool to target their food access response to the COVID-19 pandemic and has supported their partnerships with local cities to do outreach and food distribution to the local community.

  • Fort Smith highest among five Arkansas cities for COVID-19 risks By, Michael Tilley Talk Business & Politics

    The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI), a non-partisan, independent health policy center in Arkansas, used the Index to better understand what risk looks like across the state’s largest cities. Of the five Arkansas cities included in the analysis, the city Index scores ranged from 9 in Fort Smith to 3 in Fayetteville. ACHI is using City Health Dashboard data to better understand how social factors and differences by neighborhood might impact COVID risk in order to direct the public health response in Arkansas.

Be sure to subscribe to our mailing list to receive updates. We plan to update the Index as the research on COVID transmission and risk advances. And if you have used the COVID Local Risk Index in your city or your work, we want to hear from you! Email us to share your story.

Explore More