Three SDSU Researchers Provide Data and Important Studies to Assist the Public in Navigating COVID-19

CICS Co-Director Presents Knowledge Map of Coronavirus Research

By Leslie L.J. Reilly

Andre SkupinAndré Skupin, a San Diego State University geography professor, has spent the last few weeks amassing and analyzing data for a public resource on the coronavirus disease. 

Before the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic resulted in a shut down of much of the country, Skupin began sifting through thousands of documents related to coronavirus, using data from SDSU Library’s Web of Science database, analyzing it by focusing on bibliometric content from author-chosen keywords, and compiling it to swiftly develop a website that the public can now access. 

The result: An assemblage of more than 15,500 scientific articles dating back 50 years, providing answers to research questions that encourage and enable viewers to access nine major clusters of knowledge. Those clusters are respiratory system, public health,  pharmacology & pharmacy, biochemistry & molecular biology, vaccines, virology, veterinary science, neuroscience with psychiatry and pathology, and immunology.  The information is available online: Coronavirus SoS

Within Skupin’s computational techniques, “every article is combed for tiny nuggets of information that come together into a meaningful whole only after lots of computation. At that point, one begins to see patterns, relationships, and clusters. In the map, those clusters become major subdivisions or countries of the coronavirus continent. When zooming in, one starts to see individual concepts, like cities, connected by a road network. Some of these connections form backbone structures holding clusters together, like the link between ‘Biotechnology & Applied Microbiology’ and ‘Genetics & Heredity’ within the ‘Virology’ cluster,” said Skupin, co-director of the Center for Information Convergence and Strategy (CICS) at SDSU. 

“We are all quickly learning that addressing a pandemic like this requires many people to work together, from different backgrounds and accustomed to speaking in the language of sometimes wildly different domains,” Skupin said.

The results are presented in a highly visual form, to make it possible for a broader audience to gain answers to their questions and chart a journey of discovery about research topics, dating back to the late 1960s, related to coronavirus.

Students in Skupin’s current "Knowledge Analytics" seminar (GEOG 780) were given a behind-the-scenes preview of the techniques used in this project which offered inspiration in pursuing their own class projects related to their diverse interests — from agriculture to diplomacy and macroeconomics.

Skupin has been engaged in visualization of large knowledge spaces for more than two decades, however, his coronavirus efforts have found particular resonance. In fact, GIS mapping industry software leader Esri featured his story map in its recognition of twelve innovative story maps for COVID-19 communication.

“To me personally, among the most interesting lessons was the role of veterinary science, which the story map summarizes like this: Coronaviruses put humans' relationship with animals to the test in many ways. Notice the wide swath of veterinary science topics in the map, from our pets – with both canine and feline viruses present – to the food and agriculture industry, from cattle to pigs and poultry,” Skupin said.

Coronavirus SoS Knowledge Map


1,500 COVID-19 Deaths Avoided in First Month of California’s Order

A study involving two SDSU researchers reveals a positive health impact of California’s stay-at-home order in response to COVID-19 crisis.

Joseph SabiaCalifornia Governor Gavin Newsom implemented the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The order, still underway, requires citizens remain at home for all activities other than those deemed “essential,” such as purchasing food or medicine, caring for others, exercise, or traveling for employment. 

The order, much like similar stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders implemented in other states and also counties across the United States, was designed to reduce COVID-19 cases and mortality. 

“The coronavirus outbreak is one of the most serious threats to public health and economic security in our nation's history,” said Joseph Sabia, director of SDSU’s Center for Health Economics and Policy Studies (CHEPS). “Our team of scholars at CHEPS feels an obligation to produce and disseminate the best scientific evidence we can to help California policymakers mitigate the tremendous costs — in illnesses, deaths, and economic insecurity — this crisis has wrought.”    

A study to examine the impact of this order,Did California’s Shelter in Place Order Work? Early Evidence on Coronavirus-Related Health Benefits,” is co-authored by: Sabia, an economics professor at SDSU, and Drew McNichols, a postdoctoral research fellow with CHEPS at SDSU and University California San Diego; Andrew Friedson, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Colorado Denver;  Dhaval Dave, the Stanton Research Professor of Economics at Bentley University; and a team of student research assistants. 

This study is the first to rigorously examine the short-run impact of California’s stay-at-home order on the rate of confirmed COVID-19 infections and COVID-19-related mortality. Most recently, Newsom announced a framework that could lead to a modification of the original executive order. 

The team relied on a commonly used statistical modeling method to investigate the rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths. The method, called “synthetic control analysis,” was used to construct what California’s path of COVID-19 cases would have looked like if Governor Newsom had not implemented the stay-at-home order. They examined coronavirus case growth in states that were similar to California, except that those states adopted the stay-at-home orders later, or not at all.

Primarily, the team estimated that California’s order reduced the number of COVID-19 cases by nearly 88,000 and deaths by about 1,500 during the first five weeks after the order was enacted. 

Results from the study provide strong evidence that the order generated substantial public health benefits via reduced coronavirus-related mortality.

“However, our back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that California’s stay-at-home order generated eight to fourteen job losses per coronavirus case averted and 400 to 450 job losses per life saved. This tradeoff will be at the heart of policymakers’ future decisions about when to lift the orders and the degree to which social distancing will be relaxed,” Sabia said.

The CHEPS team’s analysis may inform policymakers' future decisions about when to lift orders restricting movement and the degree to which physical distancing should be relaxed. The widespread adoption of such orders calls for careful and thoughtful planning. 

“Our findings provide reassurance to worried families that staying at home does work in producing important short-term health benefits,” McNichols said. 

In their paper, the research team noted that, by early April, more than 90 countries in the world — about half of the global population — was either asked or ordered to remain home due to COVID-19. 

“In the absence of a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19 in the short term, politicians will face difficult decisions over policies that avert or postpone COVID-19-related illness, and at the same time cause economic insecurity and poverty,” Sabia said.

With these research findings available, Sabia said the team will now explore the degree to which the California experience is generalizable to other states. 

“We plan to examine the extent to which temporary shelter-in-place orders generate net improvements in health or mainly redistribute coronavirus-related illness over time.”

The research is supported with funding from SDSU’s Center for Health Economics & Policy Studies (CHEPS) and grant support from both the Charles Koch Foundation and the Troesh Family Foundation. 

Additional Newly Released Study: The Center for Health Economics & Policy Studies announces a second COVID-19-related working paper (joint with Dhaval Dave, Andrew Friedson, Kyutaro Matsuzawa, and Joe Sabia), released this week, titled: "When Do Shelter-in-Place Orders Fight COVID-19 Best? Policy Heterogeneity Across States and Adoption Time."

Direct Links:  National Bureau of Economic Research and IZA

This story originally appeared on SDSU NewsCenter.


Tracking COVID-19 with Big Data, GIS, and Social Media

The New Research HUB Provides Crucial Resources for the Public

By Leslie L.J. Reilly

Ming TsouA new hub of research information to assist in monitoring and visualizing outbreak patterns of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in San Diego County is now housed in one location: the Research HUB for COVID-19.

Ming-Hsiang Tsou, director of The Center for Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age (HDMA) at San Diego State University, and his team developed the hub to serve as a single source of information given the large amount of COVID-19-related data available.

“As a cartographer and a data scientist, I want to emphasize that data visualization is a very powerful tool to help us make timely decisions,” Tsou said. “These web apps can help San Diegans get a clear picture about the challenges and problems we are facing now in our local communities. It will also reduce the spread of incorrect information in San Diego regions.”

The Research HUB offers six areas of collected data, including vulnerability maps and San Diego ZIP code maps. It also includes timelines about major policies and events for 16 major cities. Webinars, videos and slides which utilize national research data along with SMART dashboards that use social media and keywords to monitor real-time information are included in the Research HUB. 

The web portal was established in collaboration with faculty, staff, and students at SDSU, along with other San Diego partners, including the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA), the Epidemiology and Immunization Units, and University of California San Diego Emergency Medicine staff. International collaborators hail from Italy, Spain, Australia, and the United Kingdom. 

The HDMA group applied both data science tools (visual analytics) and data visualization methods (maps) to enable the dashboard visualizations.

“The Research HUB will provide the scientific community with the necessary tools to scale up and examine impact across time and space and could be instrumental to national and international stakeholders for public health response planning,” Tsou said.

The “Vulnerability Map,” created by third-year geography/GIS student Jessica Embury, visualizes and maps diabetes-related emergency department discharge information by age and location in San Diego County with data provided by HHSA.

It offers insight into how diabetes and related emergency department discharges vary. “This data can be compared to many things, such as COVID-19 cases, to see if there is a relationship,” Embury said.

It is the first in a forthcoming series of tools to analyze vulnerable populations within San Diego County Embury hopes the work will aid other researchers in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additional dashboards for other chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease and hypertension appear on the site as well.

“Although my work focuses on medical vulnerability, I am collaborating with other students that are examining vulnerability from other angles, such as homelessness and prison populations,” Embury said. “There is a lot of exciting work being done by HDMA members which is contributing to the COVID-19 response in a meaningful way.”

A ZIP Code Map in the Research HUB, updated daily, allows users to see the growth chart of HHSA confirmed cases within communities of San Diego.

Hillcrest is among the areas with a high number of confirmed cases (58) as of April 1, but with slower rates of increase after that date. In Otay Mesa, confirmed cases increased from 23 on April 1 to 306 on April 27.

In other areas of the Research HUB, a collection of maps created by agencies such as California Health and Human Services (CHHS) are relevant to San Diego and provide a sharable data repository of mapping sources for researchers.

“We hope this research hub can provide valuable information and research tools to the public and our research community in order to track and analyze COVID-19 outbreaks more effectively,” Tsou said.

This story orginally appeared on SDSU NewsCenter.