NOEL KING, HOST:
The U.S. is overwhelmed by COVID-19, and hearing about COVID-19 is getting overwhelming. Listen to Dr. Anthony Fauci talking to members of Congress yesterday.
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ANTHONY FAUCI: We are now having 40-plus-thousand new cases a day. I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around. And so I am very concerned.
KING: That is a lot. So maybe it's more helpful to have information about your specific community. As of today, there is a new tool that shows the threat level in every single county in this country. It was developed by researchers at Harvard. And NPR's Allison Aubrey knows the details. Hi, Allison.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: So up until this point, it hasn't been easy for me, as an individual, to figure out the level of virus spread in my community.
AUBREY: That's right. I mean, state dashboards display a lot of COVID stats. They have number of cases, number of deaths, but it's hard to know how to interpret these numbers. What are the trends? Here's Danielle Allen. She's a professor at Harvard. She's working with the Harvard Global Health Institute.
DANIELLE ALLEN: A big challenge has been the absence of a unified national way of presenting data and talking about how to think about risk.
AUBREY: So Allen, along with a big group of collaborators - top scientists and former public health officials at institutions around the country - they have stepped in. They've developed this new tool that's being released this morning.
KING: How does it work?
AUBREY: Well, you go to the website - globalepidemics.org. We have a link to it on our site - npr.org. You hover over the state and county where you live, and you'll see two important things, Noel. You'll see a trend line in cases over time, and you'll see a color - either green, yellow, orange or red. This is the risk level for your county. Now, this level is based on how many new cases there are per 100,000 people. And the value of kind of tying the alert level to this metric is that it's a standard way to measure the risk against the, you know, total population. You're getting apples-to-apples comparisons.
Here's Ellie Graeden. She's one of the collaborators on the project. She's affiliated with Georgetown University's Center for Global Health, Science and Security.
ELLIE GRAEDEN: So it allows you to compare a rural area in upstate New York compared to New York City, and that's the real value of this effort. We're now communicating and all agreeing on the same basic thresholds for the types of actions that need to be taken.
KING: So what actions need to be taken depending on what color you see?
AUBREY: Sure. Well, if you're in a green area, this signals that your county or state is on track to contain the virus. I should say, there are not too many places there. Orange and yellow - that's where many parts of the country are. And for policymakers, it's a cue that they may need to adjust restrictions depending on the trend line, if it's going up or down. And there is specific guidance from collaborators on steps to take.
For us, the public, it's also a signal to, you know, maintain vigilance, to keep up social distancing and masking, to be very cautious. Red is a signal that a stay-at-home order or some other advisory like that is needed. That's the conclusion of these scientists.
KING: And there are counties and states, I would presume, that are in the red, yeah?
AUBREY: Yes, there are. I should emphasize it's very fluid, constantly changing. But many counties in Arizona and Florida are in the red. So if it were up to these scientists, there would be a shelter-in-place or a stay-at-home order considered there. Also, 20 counties in Texas are red. If you look at the map, much of the country is in orange and yellow, as I said, a smattering of green. I should point out, one way to think about this tool is to guide your own decision-making. If you wanted to visit relatives and you use this tool, you see the county they live in is at a red alert, you may want to reconsider your plans.
KING: And people can find the tool at npr.org, right?
AUBREY: That's right. That's right.
KING: NPR's Allison Aubrey. Thanks, Allison.
AUBREY: Thank you so much, Noel.
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