Unexpected Ways Data Science is Helping to Fight the COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19, Coronavirus, Global Pandemic… These are all terms we’re unfortunately more than aware of, now more than ever. The Coronavirus has made a significant impact on our lives, but doctors, healthcare workers and contact tracers are helping our communities to stop the spread of COVID-19. There’s another group helping in a way we don’t recognize often, and that’s the Data Scientists.

What exactly is “data science,” and how is it being used to fight the COVID-19 pandemic? Let’s break it down.

What is Data Science?

According to CIO.com, “Data science is a method for gleaning insights from structured and unstructured data using approaches ranging from statistical analysis to machine learning. For most organizations, data science is employed to transform data into value in the form improved revenue, reduced costs, business agility, improved customer experience, the development of new products, and the like.”

What is Contact Tracing?

Contact Tracers identify individuals who may have come in physical contact with a COVID-19-infected person and then collect further information about these contacts to prevent and stop the spread of COVID-19. This involves asking cases of infected people to isolate and those who came in contact with infected people to self-quarantine at home or somewhere safe.

How are we at GattiHR using data science to find great contact tracers?

You may have heard we’re building 3 of the largest contact tracing organizations in the US. At GattiHR, we are collecting data through interviews and AI-based surveys during the hiring process for contact tracers with the intention of using that data to find what characteristics make for the most successful contact tracers. We’ve found the majority of our contact tracers have empathy, compassion, perseverance, resilience, attention to detail, the ability to listen to a detail, investigate further and more. Contact tracing is a recognized and effective strategy for “flattening the curve” in a pandemic. It’s painstaking, tedious, investigatively-intensive work, requiring excellent communication skills.

Contact tracing is an obvious way data science and data analytics are being used to fight COVID-19, but its uses are not limited simply to just the contact tracing process. Data science is also being used to research the hard, socioeconomic questions that this pandemic brings up.

It forces us to ask questions like,

“Does someone of the same race/ethnicity make a better connection and have a better result in their investigative conversation than a contact tracer of a different race/ethnicity?”

“It’s obviously easiest to communicate with someone in the same language, so what kind of outcome is expected when an infected, native Spanish speaker converses with a beginner/intermediate v. fluent Spanish contact tracer?”

“Will the result be the same as two native speakers conversing?”

It’s also important for contact tracers to be aware and empathetic to people of all socio-economic classes. For the Initiative we at GattiHR put in place in Massachusetts, it’s important to the state that we hire state residents to give proper guidance on what testing centers and resources are in proximity to the infected person to ensure the community members received proper care, awareness and treatment.

Healthcare Research

Data science can not only assist in healthcare research but also speed it up. With a significant increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitals and healthcare hotlines are receiving an overwhelming number of calls related to the virus. Yes, hiring more people will attempt to solve this problem, but data science has an answer: AI Chatbots. IBM used its AI technology to create a chatbot that answers COVID-19 questions. According to AMA.org, “University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, in collaboration with IBM, deployed a chatbot agent that reduced patient registration time by 50%, freeing up staff and speeding up the triage process. Providence Hospitals created a similar chatbot system in collaboration with Microsoft, launching the platform in the beginning of March at St. Joseph health system in Seattle. In its first week, the Providence chatbot served 40,000 people in the first week.”

Google Searches

Data science can also be used to understand how people are learning about the pandemic by analyzing Google searches related to the pandemic. With the number of cases rising and the constant attention on the Coronavirus, people are looking to the internet for quick, reliable news. A study by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) found that “news of the first COVID-19 case in a state leads to a 52% increase in searches for ‘coronavirus symptoms’ but does not increase searches for coronavirus treatment options.” The study also shows that “the second row [of the graph] shows searches for ‘hand sanitizer’ increasing 35% immediately after first case announcements, and, unlike in the previous two cases, the search activity remains high for the remainder of the observable period.” The study also points out that “the announcements do not induce searches for nearby coronavirus testing opportunities [and,] the third row suggests that first case announcements do not induce search for community-level policies or more-elaborate personal health strategies.”

Thanks, Data Scientists

Data science has more uses than many of us are aware of, and it’s important in this crazy and hectic time to dig into current resources and technologies to help prevent and stop the spread of COVID-19. Because of data science, we’re able to understand people through the collection of big data to learn common behaviors (internet searches) and characteristics (like those it takes to be a great contact tracer). To learn more about GattiHR’s contact tracing involvement, visit www.TalentBoost.cloud/Contact-Tracing.