Arguments over infection curves, case counts, and statistical significance have become commonplace during the pandemic as people the world over struggle to make sense of the constant flow of information. As paradoxical as it might seem for those locked in a debate over the latest heat map or infection rate, we need more and better data. The U.S. has 50 different state systems for analyzing and reporting testing data, with some even arguing the best databases have been from the efforts of news media organizations—although even those data sets lack basic information such as the characteristics of the people tested and where they were tested
The pandemic has revealed the need for more timely, integrated, and accurate data to better understand, communicate, and meet communities’ needs. The pandemic has also captured our collective imaginations, opening possibilities for integrated technologies to safeguard public health and enable a better normal.
For example, traditional travel demand models and forecasts do not account for the drastic and rapid changes in travel patterns caused by the pandemic. Anonymized cell phone data can provide near real-time information on people’s movement. Integrating this data with other data sources can better capture recent changes in travel patterns and behaviors to more accurately inform return to service considerations
Similarly, video cameras and sensors combined with machine learning can track and identify when congestion on a specific platform may exceed social distancing requirements.3 Beyond the touchless interaction with a building’s elevators or meeting room booking system, smart building systems can provide reassurances on air quality and other workplace environmental factors through a digital feedback loop.
While we are practically swimming in Big Data, these examples make it clear we have only dipped our toes into what is possible. Better integrated technologies are needed for a more resilient system that safeguards public health while respecting people’s privacy and safety. The action plan below provides an approach to move further along the path towards a future where data is connected, integrated, and protected for the creation of a better normal.