Mapping COVID-19: Applying spatial database and web mapping concepts to a real-world problem

Animation of covid on the map.

David Haynes teaches the MGIS program’s GIS 5577 course, which focuses on the use and administration of spatial databases. More specifically, GIS 5577 focuses on preparing students to handle and use bigger datasets within a spatial database. When classes transitioned to online mode in March 2020, Dr. Haynes took the opportunity to re-evaluated how to finish out the semester.  At that time, John Hopkins was making national headlines for their national COVID-19 dashboard. This large dataset was a perfect opportunity to apply classroom instruction to a real-world problem. Dr. Haynes and several of his students decided take on a project to create their own version of a dashboard/web map.

Web mapping varies considerably from simple one-page HTML with embedded JavaScript to complex web frameworks. The project group aimed for something in the middle since some students had experience with web mapping but were not sure how a database could be used to power the visualization. Students identified the New York Times COVID-19 GitHub repository as their main resource. From there, students worked on both the back (Python, SQL) and front end (CSS, HTML, and JS). They gained excellent project management experience by holding weekly group meetings to plan the next action steps and deliver the final product.

The result of the project was a very cool web map that reflects the project group’s collective interests. The web map is not a static one; data are loaded daily into the map, and because they used a database, web map users can explore any day within the time series, going all the way back to March 2020. They also wanted users to be able to explore different datasets with the same map. The map is interactive so people can explore and visualize the data to learn about COVID-19 trends.

David Haynes is an Assistant Professor affiliated with the Institute for Health Informatics and a member of the MGIS faculty. His areas of expertise include health geography and spatial computing. David was featured in a Clinical and Translational Science Institute article Changing healthcare one neighbor at a time about his development of an innovative mobile app. If you have interests in spatial database design and administration, then consider taking this course in the future! 

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