Pilot project to provide Wake leaders with data to better inform decisions

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A pilot program will provide leaders from seven counties, including Wake County, with a streamlined set of data that project developers hope will better inform their decisions on controlling the spread of COVID-19 and weighing whether to ease restrictions or add new ones.

The NC Community Confidence project assembles data sets from several sources into a dashboard that includes a simulator that allows them to gauge the potential effects of some decisions. The project begins on Dec. 8.

“Balancing between economics and public health became the real kind of challenge for us as a society, and certainly as far as decision-makers go,” said Michael Levy, the president of the nonprofit Digital Health Institute for Transformation and one of the project leaders.

It was created in collaboration with the Institute for Convergent Services and Innovate Carolina at the University of North Carolina.

Levy says the dashboard tracks 18 indicators, pulling public health data from the state Department of Health and Human Services, mobility information from SafeGraph, weather data from Climacell and population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

It pools those figures for each county in the program and generates an easily digestible two-digit score. The simulator then shows how that score could change based on decisions such as adding or loosening restrictions or whether residents adhere to social distancing guidelines.

“What are all the options between full economic opening and full economic shutdown?” he said. “What are all the options in that gray area that we haven’t been able to really surface, and therefore, it feels like there is no objective narrative here — we’re trial and error, but there’s data, and there’s data that we can bring in and get insights and build a tool that supports the decision-making and the education process.”

Many of the decisions related to reopening have come at the state level through Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive orders, the most recent of which lowered the maximum number of people at indoor gatherings from 25 to 10.

But Levy says there are plenty of choices still in county leaders’ hands, for example, the option to enact ordinances or levy fines on businesses that fail to enforce social distancing rules.

“There’s also the use case of the county official understanding the equation much better and being more educated about having discussions at the state level about, No. 1, their community and the sentiment,” Levy said, “as well as being armed with objective, scientific data and real county-level data and state data and the comparison of your county versus other counties. And driving much more robust conversation with policymakers and state leaders as it relates to your county itself.”

The project is funded by the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory through the COVID-19 Recovery Act passed by lawmakers and signed by Cooper. Levy says DHIT received $900,000 for the project.

The seven counties were chosen as a representative cross-section of North Carolina, Levy said, coming from all corners of the state and representing a mix of urban and rural. Along with Wake, the counties participating include Ashe, Buncombe, Gates, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, and Robeson.

The goal is to expand to all 100 counties and to other states.

“We felt very comfortable that the seven that we chose allows us to take into account the idiosyncrasies that we have across the state of North Carolina,” he said.

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