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Is it safe to travel for the holidays? This COVID-19 risk assessment map can help you decide

KiMi Robinson
Arizona Republic

It won't be easy for Americans to decide whom to welcome into their homes or visit during the holiday season as the U.S. breaks records for new cases of the novel coronavirus.

A number of cities and states have tried to limit residents' activities in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. That includes Chicago, where Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a 30-day stay-at-home advisory and limiting gatherings to 10 people. Other cities have imposed curfews.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains that the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 is to stay at home.

Travelers should check for restrictions in the state, city, tribe or territory they are visiting. The CDC has a list of resources and links on its website to help find applicable health departments. 

Health experts are warning against "pandemic fatigue" and are encouraging people to stay socially distanced, wear masks and get tested for the coronavirus.

For those who are considering traveling to see friends and family as 2020 comes to a close, an interactive map can help inform your decision whether you feel safe going to an event or gathering in any given location, reports The Arizona Republic, which is part of the USA TODAY Network.

What is the COVID-19 Risk Assessment Planning Tool?

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Applied Bioinformatics Laboratory and Stanford University have created the COVID-19 Risk Assessment Planning Tool, which "shows the risk level of attending an event, given the event size and location."

The tool, which is updated daily, can be found at https://covid19risk.biosci.gatech.edu.

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"To provide real-time, geolocalized risk information, we developed an interactive online dashboard that estimates the risk that at least one individual with SARS-CoV-2 is present in gatherings of different sizes in the United States," the researchers wrote in a peer-reviewed Nature Human Behaviour article.

"Risk assessment and tolerance varies considerably between individuals," the researchers acknowledge. "The intention of the tool is to promote informed behaviour by providing a quantity analogous to other likelihoods that may be familiar to users (for example, weather forecasts)."

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Applied Bioinformatics Laboratory and Stanford University have created the COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool, which "shows the risk level of attending an event, given the event size and location."

How does the risk assessment tool work?

The event risk assessment planning tool doesn't assume that the number of reported cases indicates the actual spread of the coronavirus across the globe.

To account for the lack of knowledge of the true number of coronavirus cases, the user can select an ascertainment bias of 5 or 10. Selecting a bias of 10 would alter the data to assume that there are 10 times more COVID-19 cases than are reported, since not everyone who is positive gets tested.

The "USA Risk Estimates by County" map might be the easiest to navigate. A user can use a slider to select the size of the gathering, ranging from 10 to 5,000 people, and the level of bias they want to apply to the results.

The map is interactive, so users can zoom in and out and scroll across the U.S. to find the location an event will take place.

For example, if you're going to a 50-person event in Maricopa County, which is where Phoenix is, and the map shows 55%, there is a 55% chance someone at the event will have COVID-19.

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What does the risk assessment tool say about gatherings in US destinations?

If you navigate to the "Real-Time U.S. and State-Level Estimates," the tool shows a chart with the risk level of various gathering sizes, taking into account the ascertainment biases.

The tool will also tell you when it last accessed the data the chart is showing.

Accessed Nov. 12, for examplethe chart showed a 3% chance of coming across someone with COVID-19 at a 10-person dinner party in Arizona and a 26.81% chance at a 100-person wedding reception, looking at current reported case numbers in the state. 

The CDC recommends wearing a mask and gathering outdoors whenever possible and avoiding indoor spaces with poor ventilation.

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Reach the reporter at kimi.robinson@gannett.com or at 602-444-4968. Follow her on Twitter @kimirobin and Instagram @ReporterKiMi.