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Project updates, commentaries, events and news about health across the nation from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps team.

Tracking COVID-19: Recently Updated US COVID Atlas Offers More Complete Picture of the Pandemic Experience

Publication date
April 15, 2021

As the nation has passed the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country is rapidly moving to get everyone vaccinated. Yet, it is still clear that the scale and the scope of this crisis has starkly revealed the continued need for reliable and comprehensive data to track infection rates and community spread, inform equitable recovery efforts, and effectively distribute resources. We need the most current, thorough, and reliable data to guide vaccine distribution, particularly as the nation moves rapidly to get shots into people’s arms -- especially for the communities hardest hit by COVID-19. 

The US COVID Atlas, created by the University of Chicago, is a robust data resource measuring everything from the number of COVID cases, deaths, vaccinations, and hospitalizations, to identifying where community clinics are located, and analyzing and defining trends happening over time. Recent additions include: 

  • Data on hospital facility ICU bed utilization helps to show the strain the pandemic has placed on health care systems throughout the country over time.
  • State-level vaccination data identifies what percentage of the population has received their first and second doses of the vaccine. 
  • Mobility trend data that reveals where and when full-time work behavior resumed by looking at smartphone device locations. This data is paired with data on essential workers in each countyand provides key insights into our recovery from COVID-19 by capturing full- and part-time work behavior. 

However, COVID-19 data alone is not sufficient to advance change. Creating conditions for people to thrive requires looking to multi-layered social, economic, and structural factors that run much longer and deeper in communities than mask-wearing or stay at home orders. As Marynia Kolak, health geographer leading the Healthy Regions and Policies Lab at the Center for Spatial Data Science at the University of Chicago, writes in her recent article, “Improving public health outcomes during the pandemic depends on the history of specific communities and incorporating into the data the access issues that have plagued them for generations.”

At County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, we know that even before the emergence of COVID-19, the nation was grappling with significant health and economic disparities, rooted in structural racism that impacted communities and access to housing, jobs, education, and more. COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated these inequities in health and well-being. 

While the County Health Rankings do not measure COVID-19 risk, they do help to show the root causes that contribute to poor health. Rankings data highlight the social conditions of place that contribute to why COVID-19 exposure, illness, hospitalization, and death may be higher in some communities compared to others. Through a partnership between County Health Rankings & Roadmaps and the University of Chicago, the COVID-19 Atlas features key Rankings measures that provide this important context--from children in poverty to residential segregation to access to medical care.1 

By seeing the social and economic conditions that influence health alongside near real-time COVID-19 data, local, county, and state leaders can use the US COVID Atlas to target investments, action, resources, and policies to ensure a more equitable and inclusive recovery.

Strategies in What Works for Health can also provide helpful guidance for local leaders to address the longstanding barriers to housing, jobs, and education with an eye toward expanding equity. COVID-19 has brought to the forefront the differences in opportunity we see by race, ethnicity, and place--differences we must urgently tackle if we want to have a fair, inclusive, and equitable recovery for all.

Explore the US COVID Atlas

More from Marynia Kolak, health geographer leading the Healthy Regions and Policies Lab at the Center for Spatial Data Science, on the importance of social determinants of health in public health maps

1 County Health Rankings measures included in the US COVID Atlas: Community Health Factors: children in poverty, median household income, income inequality, food insecurity, access to health care, unemployment, uninsured, ratio of population to primary care physicians, preventable hospital stays, residential segregation (Black/White), and housing cost and quality; Community Health Context: percentage of population ages 65 and older, adult obesity, diabetes prevalence, adult smoking, excessive drinking, and drug overdose deaths; and Length and Quality of Life: life expectancy and self-rated health.


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