Inside building Erie County's COVID-19 heat map: tracking the spread

Posted at 4:28 PM, Mar 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-06 10:52:40-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The Erie County COVID-19 map went live Thursday, March, 19.

It has received nearly half a million view since then and averages about 40,000 visits each day.

To put that in perspective other online maps created by the Geographic Information Services office typically see around 1,000 visits per day.

The office is made up of a three-person team who put this resource together in less than two days; anticipating the need for it before the request even came in from the County Executive.

“This was a result of us looking at the John Hopkins map of the coronavirus spread, looking at that map daily, and realizing that we needed to get something that was public facing and simple to look at out to our local citizens and local residents,” Said Lisa Wiza, the director of GIS.

The COVID-19 map puts the power of information directly in the hands of Erie County residents. It’s a tool most localities around the country do not have, but County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said they felt it was important to give residents a clear idea of what we are dealing with — with numbers directly from the source.

“As we've been releasing information about single cases, or a few cases it really doesn't give the visual representation of where we're seeing this disease in Erie County the way this online tool does,” said Kara Kane, public information officer for the Erie County Department of Health.

The Health Department pulls information directly from its lab and from the New York State Electronic Clinical Laboratory Reporting System (ECLRS).
“We’re working to make sure the data we're getting from ECLRS is the complete data from all available labs: commercial, private, and public,” said Kane.

The Health Department then verifies where each case lives, and sends reports directly to the GIS office which update the heat map multiple times each day.
“We want to make sure we are communicating the information they want communicated. What we are showing on our site, in terms of numbers, are coming directly from our Department of Health, directly when they are prepared to publicize that information,” said Wiza.
Right now, the Erie County map doesn’t show the “curve” in our county, or the ratio of positive to negative test results, but these are features that could be added down the road.

“We are going to continue to add enhancements and efficiencies to it as we can and as they are improved,” said Wiza. “On the back end there is a lot of work going on.”

One of those enhancements recently added is the ability to track cases in Erie County by zip code, which was made available this week. The hardest hit zip, according to the map, is the Buffalo/Cheektowaga border area with 86 current cases.

“One thing this map does not do,” added Kane, “is show that this disease is everywhere in our community, and over the next few weeks, unfortunately, the numbers on this map will grow.”