Facebook releases county-by-county maps showing people reporting COVID-19 symptoms

Facebook released its first county-by-county maps of the U.S. on Monday showing the prevalence of self-reported COVID-19 symptoms based on data it has collected.

The maps, which will be updated daily, are meant to help health officials allocate resources and decide where parts of society can be reopened.

They use information from a voluntary survey Facebook has been prompting users to take. The survey, operated by the Carnegie Mellon University Delphi Research Center, is designed to help health researchers identify COVID-19 hot spots earlier.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the goal is to give state officials a sense of where they may need to direct resources, such as personal protective equipment, or PPE.

“Overall, since experiencing symptoms is a precursor to going to the hospital or becoming more seriously ill, these maps could be an important tool for governments and public health officials to make decisions on how to allocate scarce resources like ventilators and PPE, and eventually when it’s safe to start re-opening society,” Zuckerberg said.

The data doesn’t include individual people’s specific movements, and the survey, which is used to generate the maps, is something people must opt in to. Facebook plans to start offering the surveys internationally and will be releasing reports on the global prevalence of the disease.

“I think providing aggregate data to governments and health officials is one of the most important tools tech companies can provide,” Zuckerberg said.

The maps add to tech companies’ growing efforts to use their vast networks and data-collection tools to help provide a clearer picture of the outbreak and possibly create systems that will help states ease lockdowns. Apple and Google have begun building a system for smartphone-based contract tracing.

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