Just how risky is it to travel for the holidays this year? With rising rates of COVID-19, many experts are recommending a moratorium on holiday gatherings. But for those who are trying to decide whether they still want to travel, smart-thermometer company Kinsa has created predictive COVID-19 risk scores for every county in the U.S.
The new risk scores build on the Healthweather map the company launched earlier this year, which shows whether states are at low, medium, or high risk of rising cases and highlights when cases might surge. Now users can enter their zip code and get a risk score for their region. For example, Hennepin County in Minnesota, where Minneapolis is located, has a critical risk score of 83 (100 being the most critical). The app warns people to exercise extreme caution in the area because case numbers are very high and the virus is spreading rapidly there.
The risk scores are based on Kinsa’s temperature data from more than 2 million smart thermometers, as well as case data from Johns Hopkins University. Kinsa CEO Inder Singh says the company is able to predict COVID-19 outbreaks 10 days in advance. The company has smart thermometers in every county in the U.S., but it does not have a large amount of data in every single county. Kinsa plans to add an indicator to its risk assessments that will show how reliable each county’s risk score is based on how much data is available.
In addition to a COVID-19 risk rate, the score will also tell you what demographics are most at risk and what to do to lower your risk of infection. For example, in California’s Contra Costa County, which has a moderate risk score of 27, Kinsa advises at-risk groups to minimize social contact. It also advises everyone to increase hand washing. By contrast, in Pima County, Arizona, which has a high risk score of 59, Kinsa recommends at-risk groups to stop all social contact. It also advises all groups to limit social interactions and increase hand washing and mask wearing.
Historically, Kinsa’s data has focused on flu season. Over the past few years, its flu predictions have matched up with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The company is able to predict flu season spikes two weeks in advance. Its new risk score will also include flu data, though for the moment, it may not be as much of a concern.
“We are thinking it’s going to be a lighter flu season,” says Kinsa representative Nita Nehru, though the company is still running a full season predictive analysis. In September, the CDC reported a low instance of flu in the U.S. and Southern Hemisphere, noting that the reduction was likely due to prevention measures put into place to mitigate COVID-19 as well as fewer people visiting doctors’ offices.
That doesn’t mean there’s no risk of flu. After all, traditional flu season is just beginning. Those who dare to travel for the holidays should do so with caution.