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New Dashboards Launched to Track COVID-19 Across Texas Communities

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AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin’s COVID-19 Modeling Consortium has launched a new online dashboard to track the spread and impact of the virus, including in hospitals across Texas, with detailed information for 22 areas.

The Texas Department of State Health Services divides the state into 22 Trauma Service Areas (TSAs) to track health care and emergency resources for those regions. UT researchers combined hospitalization data for each area, combined with anonymous cellphone mobility data from those areas and other data to predict how the pandemic is progressing in each area and its impact on local health care resources.

“This will provide up-to-date information for citizens, school boards, city and county leaders, and health care providers to help them make critical decisions for their families and communities,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the UT COVID-19 modeling consortium and a professor of integrative biology.

The new Texas dashboards are based on one that was created for the City of Austin in June that tracks hospitalizations and intensive care unit (ICU) patients, along with the rate at which the infection is spreading, the likelihood the pandemic is declining and the rate of decline or increase over the past 14 days.

“This provides important information for navigating the pandemic in the months ahead,” Meyers said. “People across the state can use this data to track the risks in their own community and decide when it may be time to enact or relax control measures.”

Researchers pointed out that if the reproduction number, known as R(t), is above 1, meaning that each infected person is likely to infect more than one other person, then the pandemic is probably increasing in that area. If the value is below 1, then the pandemic is probably on the decline.

Looking back over data for the different TSAs this summer, researchers note that several areas came close to reaching capacity in their ICUs, among them the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Laredo, Houston and Galveston. Hospitalizations have decreased since their peak in July across the state. The predictions indicate that if mitigating behavior will continue at the current level, the risks that COVID-19 will exceed health care capacity during September are low all across the state. Loredo has the highest risk, with a 20% chance of overflowing ICUs and an 8% chance of exceeding hospital capacity.

Researchers caution that heading into the fall and the typical flu season, keeping an eye on infection rates and hospital capacity may be more important than ever.

“There is some concern that when the flu season picks up, as it usually does, some of the hospital and ICU capacity could be taken up by flu cases, leaving less room for COVID-19 patients,” said Spencer Fox, associate director of the UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.

Michael Lachmann, a professor at the Santa Fe Institute, and Maytal Dahan, director of advanced computing interfaces at the Texas Advanced Computing Center –– both members of the UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium –– played lead roles in the development of the dashboard. Computational support for the new dashboards is provided by the Texas Advanced Computing Center and the Frontera supercomputer.