Emerging COVID-19 hotspots could be in small areas, analysis finds

Emily Crane

There could be up to 22 emerging coronavirus hotspots in small cities and rural counties across eight US states that are lifting lockdown restrictions, data researchers have found.

An analysis conducted by data firm Dataminr used artificial intelligence to examine social media posts related to coronavirus and predict the smaller areas where infections are set to increase. 

The firm identified the areas based on clusters of public social media posts that directly referenced, among other things, firsthand accounts of symptoms, relatives who have been infected and testing supply shortages. 

The small cities or counties - located in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas - had all seen an increase in the number of social media posts related to COVID-19. 

There could be up to 22 emerging coronavirus hotspots in small cities and rural counties across eight US states that are lifting lockdown restrictions, data researchers have found

Those areas where the social media clusters were identified had not yet had a spike in COVID-19 infections, which the analysis suggests could point to them being emerging coronavirus hotspots. 

In most cases, the data analysis shows the increase in social media posts occurring several days before the number of infections started to increase. 

It aligns with CDC warnings that COVID-19 symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. 

The data used in the analysis only accounts for infections reported up until April 21.   

In the week since, figures independent from the analysis show that infections have spiked in some of the 22 areas. 

All eight of the states where the 22 areas were identified have either partially lifted, or didn't have, lockdown measures related to coronavirus. 

In Florida's Volusia County there are currently 445 infections. Infections increased there last week by 79. The week prior cases increased by 123. Social media posts in this area spiked about two weeks prior to cases increasing  

Vigo County in Indiana currently has 62 infections. It increased last week by just two infections but rose by 17 the week prior. Social media posts increased about two weeks before cases started to spike

In Indiana's Tippecanoe County, there are currently 95 infections. That's an increase of 36 cases in a week. Social media posts spike about a month prior to infections rising

Summit County, Ohio currently has 542 cases. The number of infections there increased by 157 in the past week and 91 the week prior. Cases started increasing about a week after social media posts there, according to the data

St. Joseph County in Indiana has 602 infections. Cases increased last week by 160 and 169 in the week prior

Polk County, Florida currently has 457 infections after increasing by 101 in a week. Infections spiked about two weeks after an increase in social media posts

Montgomery County in Ohio has 266 infections after increasing by 29 cases in a week. Infections increased about three weeks after an increase in social media posts

Monroe County, Indiana currently has 122 infections. The number of cases appeared to increase about three weeks after a spike in social media posts

Manatee County, Florida now has 563 infections. Infections increased by 120 in the past week and 166 the week prior. The number of cases appeared to increase about three weeks after a spike in social media posts

Lucas County, Ohio currently has 1166 infections. Infections increased by 313 last week and 257 the week prior. The infections appeared to spike about a week after an increase in social media posts

Lubbock County, Texas currently has 504 infections. Cases increased by 46 last week and 91 in the week prior. Cases appeared to spike about three weeks after an increase in social media posts

Infections in Jefferson County, Texas have risen to 288 infections. They have increased by 74 over two consecutive weeks. Infections appeared to increase about a month after social media posts started increasing

In Jackson County, Michigan the infections have increased to 342. Cases increased by  62 last week and 85 the week prior. The infections appeared to increase about a week after social media posts started increasing

In Horry County, South Carolina infections have now risen to 211. Infections appeared to increase around the same time social media posts started to also rise 

There are two areas in Georgia, which reopened last week, that the analysis says are hotspots. 

In Chatham County, infections increased by 32 in the past week. The week prior saw 25 new infections.  

Clarke County saw an increase of 26 infections last week and 14 new cases the week before. 

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp is pushing one of the most aggressive reopening plans in the US. Barbershops, gyms and nail salons were allowed to reopen Friday and dine-in restaurant service and movie screenings were freed to resume Monday - despite warnings that, without sufficient testing, the state could see a surge in infections. 

In South Carolina's Charleston County, infections jumped 35 in the last week and 50 the week prior.  

Greenville County in South Carolina recorded 144 new infections last week and 117 cases the week before.   

 Chatham County in Georgia currently has 217 infections. The number of cases appeared to increase about a month after social media posts spiked 

Hidalgo County, Texas currently has 310 infections. The number of infections appeared to spike about three weeks after social media posts started increasing

Hamilton County in Tennessee currently has 149 infections. Infections in that region appeared to increase about one week after social media posts spiked

Greenville County, South Carolina currently has 661 infections. The number of infections appeared to increase about a week after social media posts appeared to spike

In Escambia County, Florida the current number of cases is 485. Cases appeared to increase about three weeks after the number of social media posts spiked

Clarke County in Georgia currently has 142 infections. The number of infections appeared to spike about two weeks after social media posts increased 

In Charleston County, South Carolina the currently number of infections is at 438. The number of cases appeared to increase about a month after social media spiked

Bay County, Florida currently has 70 infections. Cases appeared to spike about a month after social media posts increased

Hamilton County in Tennessee currently has 149 infections. The number of cases appeared to spike about two weeks after social media posts increased

In Lucas County in Ohio, infections spiked by 313 last week compared to the 257 cases the week before. 

Indiana's St. Joseph County recorded 160 new infections last week and 169 a week earlier. 

Last month, Dataminr, which tracks real-time data for the United Nations and other firms, correctly predicted 14 states where COVID-19 infections would spike within two weeks.  

It comes as a number of states - mostly in the South and Midwest - lift coronavirus restrictions following weeks of mandatory lockdowns that have thrown millions of American workers out of their jobs.  

Public health authorities have warned that increasing human interactions and economic activity may spark a new surge of infections just as social-distancing measures appear to be bringing coronavirus outbreaks under control. 

Stay-at-home orders issued by governors across the US and subsequent decisions to slowly reopen state economies have turned into highly charged political issues in recent weeks as the shutdowns have hammered the nation's economy.     


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