Beth Israel Deaconess researchers create tool to assess safety of reopening businesses


Researchers from Boston-based Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center used anonymized cell phone data to develop an index predicting the potential risk of COVID-19 transmission in various businesses, according to research published March 16 in npj Digital Medicine.

The research team created the index by analyzing foot traffic trends in more than 1.25 million businesses from January to June 2020, considering the density of visits and the length of time people stay inside businesses. They studied businesses' foot traffic patterns in New York, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island.

The researchers found that an increase in a county's average business risk index was linked to an increase in COVID-19 cases in one week.

The research team is now creating an online decision-support tool to help policymakers make decisions based on the weekly risk in their areas. They have also deployed a prototype of the tool in Massachusetts.

"Not all types of mobility contribute equally to increased risk of transmission, so it is important to directly measure human interaction when weighing the costs and benefits of reopening and lifting restrictions on businesses," Jennifer Stevens, MD, one of the researchers, said in a news release.


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