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Is Monroe Co. Going To Be A COVID Hotspot? IU Researcher Calls Dataminr Study 'Unclear'

A screenshot of Dataminr's Monroe County predictions.

(Dataminr COVID-19 Social Media Clusters Study screenshot)

An Indiana University data science professor says locals shouldn’t worry too much about a recent study naming Monroe County as a future COVID-19 hotspot.

The April 23 Dataminr study names Monroe County as one of four counties across Indiana and 22 counties across the country that could see an “impending case spike,” according to collected social media data.

Yong Yeol “YY” Ahn is an associate professor of informatics and computing at Indiana University’s Luddy School. He says while the premise of the study makes sense, he doesn’t think there’s enough information in the report to prove its hotspot predictions reliable.

“The study may be really good, but we don’t know because they don’t talk about the details much," he says.

Ahn researches artificial intelligence (AI) and biomedical and health data science, as well as statistical methods for data science, among other areas.

To perform the study, Dataminr used its AI platform to locate and identify people who were posting about COVID-19 on social media, taking note of posts from people saying they or someone they knew had tested positive as well as possible exposures and virus-related shortages and closures.

Dataminr claims that high concentrations of people posting about the virus, or “clusters,” on social media can be a precursor to an exponential spike in actual cases.

Ahn says because it’s unclear where Dataminr’s social media data is coming from – Twitter? Facebook? – and because of certain systematic biases that may be present in the methodology, it’s hard to tell whether the findings are legitimately concerning.

It’s also unclear whether the study accounts for Monroe County’s most nomadic population: Indiana University students.

“So, many students may say they are in Bloomington, Indiana in their profile, but they may be actually in other places, if they went home," Ahn says.

Dataminr President and COO Jason Edeboim wrote that the study’s purpose was to help local health officials more quickly determine a response and allocate resources to limit the severity of a potential outbreak.

The study also named St. Joseph, Tippecanoe and Vigo counties as possible sites of a future outbreaks.

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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