"Having all these tools, knowing that they are available in our Esri toolbox, and we could just integrate them off the shelf for a customized solution . . . it's awesome!"
GIS Tools Solve Wyandotte County’s Real-World Problem
As the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic began to rapidly spread across the country and into the state of Kansas, 168,000 residents of Wyandotte County were suddenly at risk.
In response, the Wyandotte County Public Health Department sent an urgent request to the GeoSpatial Services (GSS) Division, part of a cross-department data team within the Unified Government (UG) of Wyandotte County—Kansas City, Kansas. Health Department officials needed a new geographic information system (GIS) dashboard and hub site to capture, aggregate, and visualize the county's coronavirus cases.
The data team's vast experience providing GIS mapping-related services and products to the residents and businesses of Wyandotte County readied them for the challenge ahead.
Alongside fellow county departments throughout the UG, the team began a collaborative effort to fulfill the request. They turned to the ready-to-use maps, applications, and datasets from Esri's COVID-19 response solution to build a customized COVID-19 data dashboard and hub site that would immediately serve the needs of the County Health Department, their partner agencies, and constituents.
"Our cross-department data team took on the project to ensure the UG of Wyandotte County response to the COVID-19 pandemic is timely, comprehensive, and includes the unique context of our community," said Christian Cooley, GIS director, GeoSpatial Services Division, Unified Government of Wyandotte County—Kansas City.
The accelerating spread of COVID-19 required Wyandotte County's GSS data team to redirect all available resources toward building a new holistic GIS emergency response solution that could inform and safeguard residents while also serving as the online system of record for all stakeholders in the UG.
They would have to overcome a major roadblock to do so. In the early stages of the outbreak, there was no case data to feed the dashboards, which the team needed to provide to the Health Department.
"We had a serious challenge facing us because there were no testing kits available for COVID-19 in our city," said Jud Knapp, data analyst, Unified Government of Wyandotte County—Kansas City. "So, we asked ourselves, How can we accurately identify the size and scope of this outbreak if we can't even test people? So, the Public Health Department's solution was to be proactive and ask people to fill out an online survey, where they would answer simple questions indicating if they're having any symptoms."
This innovative strategy designed by the Public Health Department came with some challenges. The data team offered an alternative to the existing system that would use the Survey123 for ArcGIS app.
"The Public Health Department's legacy reporting system was not able to render the survey data as useful as we needed, once we got it. So that's what drove us to make a second version of the self-reporting survey," said Knapp. "We basically duplicated the Health Department's existing survey, and Elizabeth Burniston, our GIS analyst, created a more powerful version using Survey123. And these surveys rolled into a single feature layer so we could create our dashboards off them."
The data team needed to build a brand-new custom case management system—to better understand the survey data, efficiently manage and assign new self-reported cases to health professionals for evaluation, and ensure those cases were being tracked properly.
In late March, the cross-department data team began implementing their strategy to overcome those challenges and meet the urgent needs of the Health Department, partner agencies, and the public.
Residents were informed of the new COVID-19 self-reporting survey through the local media, the Unified Government television (UGTV) channel, and press briefings given by Kansas City Mayor David Alvey.
"Once we had the self-reported Survey123 data feeding into a single feature layer, we could create new GIS tools for the Health Department and automate parts of the dashboard workflow," said Robert Anderson, public works asset manager, Unified Government of Wyandotte County—Kansas City. "We used the Web AppBuilder for ArcGIS and the Smart Editor tools to create the Call Assignment and Caller Case Manager customized apps. The web apps allowed new surveys to be assigned to one of 20 different medical volunteers made up of doctors and University of Kansas medical students. This provided the Health Department with a call dispatching capability that took into account available capacity. The health professionals could evenly distribute new survey responses to the team of volunteers for follow-up based on a graph that showed each medical volunteer's current caseload."
The data team is using the survey submissions to populate the dashboard and hub site, interactive maps, and apps while the Health Department is doing the same to help track community spread.
"This provided a straightforward way for us to drive the dashboards, handle the survey issue, and then also provide a platform for the Health Department to still interact with those records," said Anderson. "The new survey was driving the feature layer and driving the web apps where they could assign follow-up, and then it's also live feeding the public dashboard and a hub."
One of the data team's first steps was to begin adopting and configuring the ready-to-use datasets and apps in Esri's COVID-19 GIS Hub solution template for their interactive dashboards and maps in a customized solution.
"In addition to our original public dashboard, we created a customized hub as an open data portal to serve as a supplemental, educational piece," said Cooley. "Because there was always another KPI or metric or indicator the Health Department was wanting to add to this solution. The hub provided a platform where we could better provide context to these numbers. For example, we have one senior care facility that had over 100 cases in it. And so, we could describe that spike that we had in our numbers. It was definitely valuable adding context to our numbers here."
Wyandotte County's new data dashboard and open data portal have proven to be a resounding success. The new GIS solutions are helping to keep residents fully informed; situationally aware of trends and patterns in community spread; and, ultimately, safer.
The interactive maps and applications are providing authoritative data on vital statistics and key indicators. The public can view near real-time statistics on confirmed cases, patients hospitalized, fatalities, recovered cases, and the self-reported cases mapped by ZIP code. Users can also dig deeper into the case data with a trend chart tracking the number of cumulative cases by date and bar chart tracking cases by key demographic identifiers.
"Having all these tools, knowing that they are available in our Esri toolbox, and we could just integrate them off the shelf for a customized solution . . . it's awesome," said Anderson.
The new data dashboard has logged over 80,000 visits to date. It is providing a fully transparent view into the county's emergency response effort for residents. This is made possible with an easy-to-access online portal featuring a holistic view of the wide-ranging impacts of the outbreak—and the resources to stay safe. It is effectively conveying a map-based understanding of community spread. Sharing location-based data in near real time on interactive maps and apps that detail the scope, scale, and community spread of this pandemic is helping to drive awareness of evolving risk factors and reinforcing the urgent need for extreme caution to all residents.
The Survey123 app has served a critical purpose in an unsure time, as people that were experiencing symptoms were hesitant to leave the safety of their homes.
"We now have 20 University of Kansas medical students working with the county's Health Department, calling the survey respondents back within 24 hours," said Knapp. "Based on the self-reporting of potential cases and the follow-up conversation, the team of doctors is determining if residents are a probable case or not. Doctors are providing guidance based on that information, whether that is to contact their personal doctor, isolate at home for 14 days, or call back if their symptoms worsen. This is how we solved the problem."
The new case management workflow also addressed the challenges of uncertainty and fear of the unknown in the early stages of the pandemic.
"This whole time, we were told that people probably didn't want to go to the hospital or go to their doctor for fear of getting infected. The Survey123 app allowed them to remain in their own homes, fill out the web form, and be contacted by a doctor—and maybe be reassured that they don't have the virus," said Knapp. "The other thing to remember was, at the time, we were experiencing extremely limited availability of testing. So we realized that this solution was helping to alleviate that strain on supplies. With self-reporting capabilities and a phone call, doctors could tell people to stay home and self-quarantine if they believed that they had COVID-19. That might save a test for someone in the hospital who really needs it or who is serving as a frontline worker."