A friend calls with an invitation to a party at his cabin by the lake. Or mom and dad are celebrating their wedding anniversary with others at a local restaurant. But how safe is it to go?

Deaths related to COVID-19 in the nation have risen to an average of more than 1,900 a day for the first time since early March, with experts saying the coronavirus is mostly spreading among the 71 million Americans who are still unvaccinated, according to The Associated Press.

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With the resurgence in the number of COVID-19 infections due to the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus, anti-vaxxers and resistance to wearing face masks, there is an online tool to indicate a person’s risk of exposure to the virus at gatherings in any particular county.

The COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool is a project led by Joshua Weitz and Clio Andris, professors at the Georgia Institute of Technology, along with researchers at the Applied Bioinformatics Laboratory, Duke University and Stanford University.

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The website defines the risk level as “the estimated chance (0-100%) that at least one COVID-19 positive individual will be present at an event in a county, given the size of the event.”

The interactive online dashboard estimates the risk based on gatherings of different sizes.

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“The website combines documented case reports at the county level with ascertainment bias information obtained via population-wide serological surveys to estimate real-time circulating, per-capita infection rates,” according to the Nature Human Behaviour journal.

According to the website’s developers: “Our risk calculations tell you only how likely it is that at least one person at any event of a given size is infectious. This is not the same as the risk of any person being exposed or infected with COVID-19 at the event.”


“Our risk calculations tell you only how likely it is that at least one person at any event of a given size is infectious. This is not the same as the risk of any person being exposed or infected with COVID-19 at the event.”

— Developers of the COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool


So how does the COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool work or how does one use it to find county-level information?

Visit the website at https://covid19risk.biosci.gatech.edu. Use the “plus” and “minus” signs at the upper-left corner of the U.S. map to zoom in or zoom out, respectively, to adjust the image to focus on a particular county, such as Crow Wing or Cass counties in Minnesota.

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Or, if one prefers, a person can use the scroll wheel in the center of a computer mouse if the mouse has one to also zoom in and zoom out to focus on a county of one’s choosing in the United States.

The simplest method, however, is to click on the icon that appears as crosshairs located directly below the plus and minus signs. The “Locate Me” icon does exactly that — locate a user’s position on the map.

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Press and hold down the left mouse button to drag the selected area of the map in any direction to hone in on a state or county. Position the cursor of the mouse over a targeted county and information related to that county will appear.

For example, if one wanted to know the exposure risk in Crow Wing County as of Thursday, Sept. 23, for attending a gathering of about 50 people, the online tool will display the current risk level at 63% and state-level immunity via vaccination at 56.6%.

People mill around the streets at Times Square in New York City.
Contributed / Andreas M
People mill around the streets at Times Square in New York City. Contributed / Andreas M

Not throwing a restaurant-style gathering of 50 or so people? The user can adjust the crowd size using the slider tool on the left side of the webpage to indicate an event size of 10 people for, say, a backyard barbecue, to 5,000 people that may be typical of live music performances.

After finding out the risk of exposure to the virus in a particular area, the user can respond to the question below the map as to his or her likelihood of attending the event or play the risk guessing game at the top of the webpage that imagines the user in a variety of daily settings.

The real-time, interactive website for county-level COVID-19 event risk assessment in the United States receives support via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Charities in Aid Foundation and The Marier Cunningham Foundation.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.