While more information becomes available about COVID-19 across various platforms, it’s important to proceed with caution when researching the virus “closer to home.” Polk County still has only one confirmed COVID-19 case as of Thursday evening and the Times reached out to Polk County Public Health Director Sarah Reese after receiving information about a map on a well-known university’s website that could lead to confusion in the community.

    The Times was recently alerted to a coronavirus COVID-19 map on the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine website that shows a pinpoint in each county in each state in the United States and across the globe, and gives information on the number of confirmed cases, deaths, recoveries and active cases in a pop-up box when clicked on. When you “zoom in” to Minnesota and Polk County, you will find one pinpoint in Gentilly Township near the Gentilly River which reads, “Polk, Minnesota, US - Confirmed: 1, Deaths: 0, Recovered: 0, Active: 1.”

    That pinpoint is not to be confused with the actual location of the confirmed case and the Times verified that both with Johns Hopkins University and with Polk County.

    “I am aware and have verbally cautioned a few people this week about points on a map for each county only being used to identify the total number of confirmed cases and how it is not meant to provide a specific address/location of where a confirmed case is,” Reese explained in an email to the Times.

    Johns Hopkins University says all points shown on their map are based on geographic "centroids" of that county and are not representative of a specific address, building or any location.

    If you look at other counties in the Red River Valley such as Grand Forks County in North Dakota, which had 11 confirmed cases as of Thursday, there is only one pinpoint shown for that entire county and when clicked on it will give information about that specific county.

    Reese added, in a phone call with the Times, that Wednesday, in a meeting with the county’s emergency manager as they were preparing the COVID-19 dashboard on Polk County’s own website, she said they should have a disclaimer on the data that says the pinpoint on the county does not indicate where the information is and said it’s “important to articulate” so it doesn’t cause confusion for viewers.

    When the Times reached out to the Minnesota Department of Health to ask about information on the Johns Hopkins University website, a woman who answered MDH’s hotline number said she was unaware of JHU’s COVID-19 map and told the Times she was upset after learning about it on that phone call and worried the pinpoints on the map would be misconstrued as actual locations of confirmed cases. She added that she “learns something new every day” and has been answering calls on the hotline for three weeks.

JOHNS HOPKINS MAP

    JHU’s COVID-19 map is maintained in “near real time” throughout the day through a combination of manual and automated updating and includes data from sources like the World Health Organization, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and national government health departments and the “DXY” which is one of the world’s largest online communities for physicians, health care professionals, pharmacies and facilities, said the JHU website.

    Their COVID-19 map was first shared publicly on January 22 and its dashboard was built by Professor Lauren Gardner, a civil and systems engineering professor at JHU, and her graduate student, Ensheng Dong. It is maintained at the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at the Whiting School of Engineering with technical support from ESRI and JHU Applied Physics Laboratory.

    Johns Hopkins University & Medicine coronavirus COVID-19 map can be found at coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.