Research News: Team creates the Campus Shield Visualisation Tool to track campus COVID-19 cases

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John Heap, a member of the Computational Biology Facility, works alongside Prof Simon Maskell to produce a tool to track Covid-19 cases at the University of Liverpool. Here’s an overview of John's experience.

What’s new

I was already working with Simon Maskell on twitter streams when he mentioned he had another project for me; combining various input feeds for Campus Shield that was required for the start of on-campus testing.

As well as showing the numbers and locations of test appointments, positive test results and symptoms, the tool was to look for any clusters, for example in particular courses, campus locations or accommodation addresses. Once a cluster was detected it would trigger a warning notification to the University’s Outbreak Response Team (ORT).

The research

The project could be split into four parts. First, the security of the server, we were dealing with people’s medical status so everything had to be locked down and heavily encrypted. Second, the automatic handling and processing of the three external feeds. Third, the interface to the university databases on students and timetabling and, finally, we needed to combine all this information into a form suitable for a website that would give an up-to-date and anonymised summary of the data and associated clusters. 

Why it matters

In three weeks, we had produced a first version, albeit without the bells, whistles and maps that would appear later. However, it could handle the hourly feeds from NHS labs and the Evergreen app and cluster cases according to associations such as accommodation and courses.

On the launch weekend everything was quiet then, on Monday, the first positive results started to come in, notably medics who were the first to arrive on campus. As the main student cohort arrived the number of positive cases increased dramatically and the aim of the Visualisation Tool changed from detecting possible clusters to illustrating the extent of the current outbreak. As well as keeping people informed of the current situation we also began providing an early morning report to assist in their track and trace efforts. 

We’re thinking

The tool continued in operation until 5th March 2021 when it was formally stood down. It was replaced by a CSD application which, whilst very similar in function, could be maintained on a long-term basis. Covid-19 will be with us for some time to come.

Author: John Heap, Computational Biology Facility

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