UA Researchers Providing Maps of COVID-19 Testing Sites

  • April 9th, 2020
A screen shot from a computer of a map of the New York City area showing COVID-19 testing sites.
A screen shot of the mapping service created by Cohen and Raney showing drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites in the New York City area.

Two researchers at The University of Alabama are using maps to help people find testing sites for COVID-19.

Dr. Sagy Cohen, associate professor of geography, and graduate research assistant Austin Raney created a mapping service for locating COVID-19 drive-thru testing sites using publicly collected data on a pharmaceutical website. Danielle Schaffeld, geographic information systems, or GIS, and graphic technician for UA Museums, is assisting a national effort to update and maintain testing locations for the National Map Service.

“While research in my lab is focused on geomorphology and hydrology, we do have very strong geospatial analysis skills,” Cohen said. “As many people struggle with these skills and available services may not be very intuitive to some, I tried to make the mapping service as simple as possible.”

Cohen mapped the sites in the United States from a dataset of nearly 500 sites collected and published on GoodRX, a website that allows users to compare drug costs. GoodRX has collected a dataset of sites using a mix of local and state government information and media announcements.

The mapping service Cohen created is available on his lab’s website. It allows users to locate the nearest drive-thru testing site to their location at different search radiuses. Once a user enters an address, or allows the service to locate their device, testing sites within the search radius display on the map and information about each site lists in a side panel.

The map will continue to be updated as the GoodRX dataset is updated, he said. It’s available at sdml.ua.edu/covid-19-drive-thru-test-sites/.

Schaffeld is working with the volunteer organization GISCorps, which offers volunteer GIS services mainly for developing communities, to provide a free, easy-to-use mapping service of COVID-19 testing sites. She’s one of more than 1,000 volunteers worldwide on the project.

“I think it’s important to make this information as widespread and as easily accessible as possible,” she said. “There have been times in the past when I really wanted to volunteer my time but haven’t been able to, so I am grateful to be able to help out where I can even while under quarantine.”

The map lets users find services near their location along with critical information and instructions about each site such as if an appointment is needed. Closed and scheduled sites are also listed.

Since the project is part of the National Map Service, under the U.S. Geological Survey, it can be layered into other maps, Schaffeld said.

Called the Public Testing Site Locator App, it is available on the web at bit.ly/2QTtlgS.

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.