Color-coded interactive map illustrates COVID-19 risk level by county in US

Leading epidemiologists in the U.S. have come together to create a new way for Americans to determine whether they live in an area that has a high rate of COVID-19 transmission.

The Harvard Global Health Institute in conjunction with Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Rockefeller Foundation, CovidActNow, Covid-Local, CIDRAP and many others launched the new “COVID Risk Level” map Wednesday.

The ongoing pandemic has beleaguered the country with fear and uncertainty, but the map is designed to help the public better understand the status of individual COVID-19 risk based on what county or state a person lives in.

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Since the U.S. consists of hundreds of thousands of counties, it can be difficult to determine how best to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, especially when the population of each county is factored in, along with how quickly the virus has spread throughout each community.

"There hasn't been a unified, national approach to communicating risk," Danielle Allen, a professor and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, told NPR. "That's made it harder for people."

“The public needs clear and consistent information about COVID risk levels in different jurisdictions for personal decision-making, and policy-makers need clear and consistent visibility that permits differentiating policy across jurisdictions,” Allen said. “We also collectively need to keep focused on what should be our main target: a path to near-zero case incidence.”

The COVID Risk Level map shows if a county or state is on the green, yellow, orange or red risk level, based upon the number of new daily cases per 100,000 people, according to the map’s website.

“The framework then delivers broad guidance on the intensity of control efforts needed based on these COVID risk levels. It offers key performance indicators for testing and contact tracing across all risk levels, as a backbone for suppression efforts,” the website states.

A community that has fewer than one daily new case per 100,000 is green. One to nine is yellow; between 10 and 24 is orange; and 25 and above puts you in the red. "When you get into that orange and red zone it means, in all likelihood, you're seeing a lot of velocity, a kind of fast upward trend," Allen told NPR.

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“Local leaders need and deserve a unified approach for suppressing COVID-19, with common metrics so that they can begin to anticipate and get ahead of the virus, rather than reacting to uncontrolled community spread”, Beth Cameron, vice president for Global Biological Policy and Programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative and a member of the team, said.

“The metrics are now clear: we can reopen and keep open our workplaces and our communities,”Jonathan D. Quick, managing director for Pandemic Response, Preparedness, and Prevention, The Rockefeller Foundation, stated on the map website. “But achieving this will require a dramatic expansion of testing and tracing to again flatten the curve and eventually suppress the pandemic to near zero new cases.”