Policymakers keenly aware of residents and businesses itching to return to normal can now better understand the local impacts of coronavirus and begin plotting the path to recovery thanks to a new tie up between NSW Health and the University of Sydney.
A multidisciplinary team of researchers from the university have worked with NSW Health to develop a searchable public database that breaks down COVID-19 cases on a postcode-by-postcode basis.
Linking data from the outbreak to postcodes allows users to overlay other datasets that will be necessary in developing comprehensive, targeted strategies to overcome the pandemic said Adam Kmaradt-Scott, an associate professor with Sydney University’s School of Social and Political Sciences and government adviser on pandemic strategy.
“This database is unique in that it combines NSW Health data with ABS data on, for example, the age and the socio-economic status of people within different postcodes,” he said.
“We hope it can inform state policy responses to COVID-19, including appropriate allocation of resources.”
Associate Professor Eleanor Bruce, a collaborator on the project from the Faculty of Science, added that understanding geographical differences in socio-economic disadvantage will also be important for supporting the most vulnerable communities during the crisis.
The database, which is updated daily and greatly resembles the worldwide coronavirus map from Johns Hopkins University, also displays the date of the last recorded, which could assist policymakers in understanding where and when containment measures like social distancing can be relaxed.
“There will be a minimum of 28 days of no or small transmission that will have to have elapsed before an area is possibly cleared for relaxation,” Kamradt-Scott said.
Understanding how this virus plays out on a local level could also help health agencies and government prepare for future pandemics and avoid the confusing, ad-hoc policy declarations that added to anxieties at the beginning of the outbreak, digital health and informatics expert Associate Professor Adam Dunn said.
“Making it easier for the public to see the number of cases in the places where they live and work will help to reduce anxiety in the community as we begin to return to normal and reopen businesses, schools, and borders.
“My hope is that we will be able to look at how testing was deployed across the state to learn lessons about how we might next time use more targeted behaviour interventions to avoid much of the social, economic, and mental health harms caused by blanket policies that disproportionately burden vulnerable and marginalised communities.”