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U of T experts will now deliver customized COVID-19 data to your inbox

Subscribers to a new service, created by U of T researchers and the #HowsMyFlattening initiative, will receive daily or weekly emails with details of COVID-19 cases in their neighbourhoods (photo by Zou Zheng/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Anyone in Ontario can now receive free daily emails with details of COVID-19 cases in their postal codes – thanks to researchers at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and #HowsMyFlattening, a one-stop shop for coronavirus data.

The automated email can be delivered daily or weekly and is available for sign-up at howsmyflattening.ca. It pulls information from the website and is based on reporting by local public health units. 

“What we are seeing in this second wave is how important it is to consider the local situation given how much variation is being seen across the province,” says site co-creator Laura Rosella, an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

“The ability to provide local insights can both contribute to understanding spread as well as inform more precise mitigation strategies.”

Rosella, an expert on big data and artificial intelligence, helped create the site near the beginning of the pandemic with partners that included Ali Vahit Esenoy, an adjunct professor at Dalla Lana’s Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation (IHPME), Ben Fine, a physician-scientist at Trillium Health Partners, as well as Klik Health and software company Red Hat Inc. #HowsMyFlattening is an open and transparent collaboration initiative that monitors Ontario’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The next-generation version of the website includes an interactive, open-source monitoring system to support everyone from government decision-makers to the general public. The site allows users to easily filter out unwanted information so they can focus on their own neighbourhoods to learn about new cases and rates of postive COVID-19 tests, testing turnaround times and risk levels. An intuitive chatbot pulls up answers to specific questions, ensuring that nobody gets lost looking for information.

To avoid the hassle of signing up or registering to have a personalized experience, the website uses cookies to remember selected regions important to each visitor so their next visit can be customized.

For those who want to dig deeper into the data, clicking further into the website offers informative visualizations and the ability to manipulate each chart even further. Clicking on “Geek Mode” at the top of the site shows the range of the analysis that gets pulled together behind the scenes. This includes critical data such as positivity rates by FSA (which is the first half of a postal code), infection source breakdown and the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19.

“As a household decision maker, I now get a tailored view of regions of Ontario that matter to me and my family,” says howsmyflattening’s Morgan Lim, an assistant professor at IHPME. “As a scientist, I get to drill down deep into the data and trends in ‘Geek Mode’. It’s a win-win for me.”

#HowsMyFlattening is supported by several DLSPH and IHPME students and alumni, as well as a team of volunteer physicians, data scientists, engineers and designers. The project is funded by the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force and donations from the public and organizations such as the Ontario chapter of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.