100,000 in Jacksonville infected with COVID-19?

Group of physicians, data scientists estimate 10% of people carry disease

Photo photo (Teresa Crawford, Associated Press photo)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While the Florida Department of Health reports just over 600 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Duval County on Friday morning, a team of volunteer physicians and data scientists estimate that at least 100,000 people in Jacksonville are infected with the novel coronavirus. That’s just over 10% of the county’s population.

The researchers and data scientists behind CovidIQ believe that large numbers of people who are infected with the novel coronavirus are not getting tested.

The group called CovidIQ.org is inferring its estimate from a sample of 242 Duval County residents who completed confidential surveys conducted by text message. They then counted the number of people reporting symptoms consistent with COVID-19 by using a tiered approach, which is commonly used in tracking presumed cases of infectious diseases.

“This is our most conservative estimate, but the real numbers may be significantly higher," says Dr. Mohammed Reza, a local infectious disease specialist and hospitalist at Mayo Clinic. “We know that some people may be infected without showing any symptoms of the disease, but scientists aren’t yet sure how common this is. Our estimate is based only on people who are showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19."

The estimate from CovidIQ is in stark contrast to the case numbers reported by the states, which states less than 0.1% of residents have tested positive for COVID-19, a meager number considering Jacksonville’s large population and the highly infectious nature of the virus that causes COVID-19.

“The number of residents who tested positive for COVID-19 is a lot lower than the number of actual infections due to multiple reasons,” says Dr. Reza. "Test kits are in short supply and are not easily accessible, getting results from a test can take up to two weeks, symptoms can take up to two weeks to manifest after being infected, and many people who are infected don’t experience any symptoms and are therefore never tested.”

The researchers and data scientists behind CovidIQ believe that large numbers of people who are infected with the novel coronavirus are not getting tested and the current tests are only 60% to 70% reliable, so some of the thousands of people who receive negative test results may be infected.

“We can save thousands of lives by helping communities understand the true prevalence of this virus in their area. The technology is there, the science is there, we are just missing the responses from individuals," Reza said. “People need to text the word ‘TOGETHER’ to 203-204-9964 to help their county and state make more informed decisions about where and how to allocate limited resources and make educated public health policies that will allow us to save lives in each of our communities.”

Questions include ZIP code, age, gender, ethnicity and symptoms.

CovidIQ.org is a non-profit, volunteer team of experts in medicine, epidemiology, data science, social and behavioral science, public health, consumer privacy and engineering. CovidIQ believes its data collection can identify outbreaks long before governments are normally able to obtain the information, so communities and governments can make better decisions about resource allocation and public health policies.

The people running the CovidIQ believe that, at scale, this “Privacy-First COVID-19 Early Warning System” can save lives by identifying COVID-19 hotspots and areas in need of prevention, testing, and treatment resources. In the future, these data will also help business owners, communities and governments decide when they can begin relaxing strict social isolation policies and get back to business once the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community has become sufficiently low.

To learn more about CovidIQ go to CovidIQ.org.

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