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Indianapolis software company takes data to find risk of COVID-19 by county

February 9, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — What if you could know your chance of bumping into someone with COVID-19 before leaving your doorstep?

One Indianapolis-based data company can do just that: Assess your risk of getting infected based on the county you live in.

Indiana State Department of Health on Tuesday reported 67 more Hoosier deaths, for a total of 11,526. A total of 641,874 Hoosiers have tested positive for COVID-19.

News 8 spoke with Dr. Peter J. Plantes, physician executive at software company hc1, about the importance of knowing this data and how we can use it to help keep us safe.

Gillis: So, we are talking data….

Plantes: Yes, COVID data.

Gillis: First, tell us about your company. What does it do and how does it specifically relate to Indiana?

Plantes: We are an Indiana-based company. We are hc1 and have been in Indianapolis for 10 years and we work with cloud-based accumulation of all the laboratory data across the country. In fact, we have over 23 billion transactions that interact with over half the population in the United States. There are over 160 million people in the database.

As COVID arrived, we realized that our ability to do such bioaccumulation and surveillance of the COVID results across the entire country…. We are the only place that had all the test results for over half the country.

Gillis: And I understand you break it down. Well, first what metrics do you track?

Plantes: We look at PCR (polymerase chain reaction) results, which is the more reliable test in terms of having a better accuracy or sensitivity and specificity.

Gillis: Are those the nasal swabs or the spit swabs?

Plantes: The nasal swabs. The rapid tests also use nasal swabs, and it’s very accurate when it’s negative, but when it’s positive, there’s a lot of false positives with these rapid tests compared to the PCR. So, we accumulate PCR results because that is the public health and the physician’s standard for diagnosing if you have COVID.

Now, at hc1, we do biosurveillance across all of the laboratories and now pharmacy prescriptions so that we can get the insights into a big population including the population of Indiana as well as the United States. And also the insight into microcommunities. Not only at your county level, but we can get into the subcounty level of your particular town. So, we can look at your hyperlocal data on the prevalence of COVID, which relates to what we call a Local Risk Index (LRI).

Think of it. What are the chances if I walk outside I might bump into someone with who has COVID and doesn’t know it? Is that 1 in 10? Is that 1 in 4? And it’s averaging across the country at about 1 in 5, and 1 in 4. And in certain communities, it might be 1 in 2 people.

Gillis: In terms of Indiana, how are we doing in terms of counties?

Plantes: Indiana has a spectrum of moderate prevalence to high prevalence, and again it’s gone up and down.

Gillis: I want to circle back to the LRI. There was an increase in Johnson, Hamilton, Hendricks and Hancock counties among others in January. You look at the positive cases of COVID, but do you also look who has antibodies?

Plantes: Yes. On the hc1 sight — It’s a free site, basically just type in — we trace by county and by subcounty and at a hyperlocal level the number of PCR tests to find the virus, but we also trace out the number of blood tests that detect if you had the virus in the past and you are carrying the antibodies because you’ve been exposed.

You may have had COVID and be protected now. The more symptoms you have, the higher the antibody response is in the body. An asymptomatic case brings the antibodies to a lower level. That’s why we want to get the vaccine. We want antibodies so when the virus shows up it doesn’t have a chance to get into the body.

Gillis: Data is great to have. It’s great to have numbers, but what do we do with the data? Who gets this data? How do we help people understand that this is going on? Moving forward with this data, what do we do with it?

Plantes: Data is essential to be able to know where the COVID is breaking out. I always tell the story. The definitive tool in WWII (World War II), the Battle of Britain, which was an air war, was the development of radar to know where the planes were coming from so that they could send out their limited resources to meet the planes that were invading from Germany and meet them and defend the country.

hc1’s biosurveillance of where the trends of COVID activity is act like a radar to tell us which communities have a fast, lightning level of COVID exposure. When that happens things should be considered when protecting the population of that community. Should schools go to video only for several weeks? Should stores be less-populated? Should the enforcement of using masks be more diligent than what we’ve seen in the past?

If people know, like a weather forecast, that there is more COVID in the community by this biosurveillance mapping, then they can take the protection so they bring the support of protecting themselves: an umbrella for rain, and a mask and distancing for COVID.