Yong-Yeol Ahn, an associate professor of informatics and computing at the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, has created interactive data visualizations that show insights into the growth rate and case-fatality rates of COVID-19 worldwide.
Combining data sets from several sources, such as the worldwide case data from European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control as well as United States case data via the New York Times, Ahn has created an interactive visualization that allows users to compare the growth of the number of COVID-19 cases in countries around the world and the rate at which cases are increasing. Another visualization tracks the case-fatality rate of COVID-19, which lets viewers easily compare crucial information about each nation, such as lack of adequate testing coverage (a high case-fatality rate suggests a lack of testing) or case growth.
“Because the spreading within each country is largely dependent on the public health policies implemented by the government, visually comparing country-level statistics can provide a lot of insights,” Ahn said “Although the data is always biased and does not necessarily reflect the reality, quantities like the case-fatality rate can be revealing because it can hint whether there is a large, undetected community spreading, which would likely to manifest as extremely high case-fatality rate.”
Because the number of deaths tend to be more accurate whereas the number of cases largely depends on the testing capacity of a country or a region, a large number of undetected infections would result in high case-fatality rate.
The project came about thanks to a suggestion from Sina Kianersi, a Ph.D. student at the IU School of Public Health who previously had taken Ahn’s Data Visualization course. He suggested the idea of visualizing case-fatality rates and other statistics and they worked together to create the visualizations.
“One of my research interests has been spreading processes,” Ahn said. “Because network structure in our society plays an important role in epidemics as well as the spreading of ideas, epidemiology is of great interest to me. Also, I love creating visualizations that reveal new insights into complex datasets.”
Ahn’s visualization exhibits that many countries, especially in Europe, are exhibiting much higher-than-expected case-fatality rates, strongly suggesting large undetected outbreaks that have not been identified by the testing programs.
Since COVID-19 can be present without any symptoms, the number of individuals who have or have had COVID-19 is likely far greater than those who have confirmed cases. Unusually high case-fatality rate may also reflect the heavy stress upon the healthcare system because there will be more preventable deaths.
“Data is informative, but few things can get the message encased in that data better than a visualization,” said Kay Connelly, the associate dean for research at the Luddy School. “YY has long been interested in data visualization, and his expertise adds one more tool that will help people understand what kind of challenges we’re dealing with in the COVID-19 outbreak and maybe provide a glimpse of how their country is handling the crisis. It’s another example of researchers at the Luddy School using technology to make a real-world impact.”