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Facebook using artificial intelligence to project COVID-19 rate of spread in counties across the U.S.

The projections suggest San Diego will add the 15th most new cases out of all counties in the United States before Nov. 30.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, California — Facebook’s Data for Good is using artificial intelligence to review coronavirus data and make projections about the rate of spread. It projected an 18% rise in cases over a two-week period, which would add more than 12,000 cases to San Diego County’s totals.

“It's really just a bunch of math, automated math that's using previous caseload to predict future caseload,” explained Laura McGorman, the Public Policy Manager for the project. “Then you use that information with a bunch of other variables to try to look forward.”

The projections suggest San Diego will add the 15th most new cases out of all counties in the United States.

Data for Good uses several data points to create its model, such as the number of confirmed cases, the weather and anonymous Facebook user data that can help determine mobility. It does not use content from Facebook posts.

“What we're trying to do is bring all the information that people choose to share with Facebook to the bear and make it publicly available so that public health systems, academics and international institutions can use these nontraditional sources, hopefully, to get ahead of cases,” said McGorman.

California Department of Public Health uses multiple forecast models to create its composite. The agency looks at how trends can change if certain policies are put in place.

Its models suggest the additional restrictions on purple tier counties can help limit the expected increase over the next few weeks. CDPH estimates about 12% of cases end up in the hospital. 

“We can bring this curve down. We can flatten and we can get it to a point where our health care system is able to do what it's intended to do, which is take care of the sick and in a high quality and complete way,” said Mark Ghaly, M.D., M.P.H., Secretary of California Health and Human Services. “Without intervention, we see these rapid rises and yes, it comes down, but after a really important toll on all of Californians. Without interventions, we see high case rates, high impact on our hospitals.” 

View the COVID-19 case spread predictions below or open in a new window here: