With outbreaks of coronavirus (COVID-19) infections spiking around the U.S. and continuing around the world, Esri is advocating for an aggressive location contact tracing method that harnesses the power a geographic information system.

Through what the company is calling a Community Contact Tracing concept, Esri proposes adding location technology to contact tracing to help communities devise containment strategies.

Currently, most contact tracing methods consist of tracking person-to-person interactions. Community Contact Tracing adds location data to the equation to track potential infection hot spots. 

In many ways, this process is already happening in real time. In Michigan, more than 51 coronavirus infections have been linked to a popular restaurant in the state's capital. In Ohio, 17 high school students recently tested positive for COVID-19 after a trip to Myrtle Beach

"It starts with the understanding that a person’s risk of contracting a virus relates directly to their exposure to other people who are already infected," explains Este Geraghty, Esri's chief medical officer. "Contact tracing is a powerful public health tool professionals use to break disease transmission chains, keeping people and populations safer from disease spread."

By expanding the person-to-person approach, inherent in traditional contact tracing, to include person-to-person-to-place, Geraghty says, public health analysts will be able to perform location analytics to illuminate the places where viral spread is happening outside of direct and prolonged contact between two individuals.

The below 7 minute video is an illustrative example demonstrating spatially-based link analysis and centrality measures that capture the importance of person-to-person-to-place relationships.

"As we face the challenges posed by COVID-19, spatial technologies allow us to think differently. Public health professionals are contemplating innovative ways to scale contact tracing efforts, and many are recognizing that community contact tracing uncovers important insights to advance interventions," says Geraghty. "Public health departments can use GIS to achieve location enablement and perform location analytics. Location enablement includes managing data in a system of record and digitizing and streamlining data collection. Location analytics involves examining collected data to quickly identify potential contacts and determine where specific cases might originate."

Visit Esri's COVID-19 GIS Hub for more location intelligence resources.