Science & Technology

UWF study identifies US counties with high rates of COVID-19

A research team from the University of West Florida’s Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering has identified geographical areas of unusually high rates of COVID-19 infections and mortality. Their surveillance study locates COVID “hot spots” across the country through September.

In spring, Dr. Raid Amin, a distinguished university professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, began using SaTScan, a disease surveillance software, to examine the top 20 hot spots for COVID incidences and mortalities in U.S. counties among the 48 contiguous states. Amin has used similar software to uncover U.S. counties with high mortality rates and incidences of breast cancer.

Six of his students—Luke Hodgkins, Bionca Shields, Kyle Stein, Jon Stevenson, Misty Uher and Conor Voreis—have joined in on the COVID research for their statistics courses. Their research includes the relative risk value for a cluster, which shows how much higher COVID is in the 20 clustered counties compared to the rest of the 3,108 counties in the contiguous U.S.

Amin said the results have remained relatively consistent throughout the study, and that Northwest Florida compares favorably to the rest of the state in the number of confirmed cases and deaths linked to COVID. The number of confirmed cases in Northwest Florida counties have ranged between 0.75-1.22% of the population, whereas some counties in the state have averaged anywhere between 1.22-7.9%. Hot spots have been prevalent in the Southeast throughout the study. The Northeast, along with areas of Arizona and Texas, have also been hot spots at various times.

“In general, Northwest Florida has had lower rates and death counts than what we see in Central Florida or in South Florida,” Amin said. “The space-time permutation model identified an outbreak for Santa Rosa County but not for Escambia County. This research allows us to compare every county in the 48 contiguous states and detect statistical trends.”

The students cited locating hospitalization results for the various counties as one of the most challenging aspects of the research. Conducting their research remotely, the students have learned to develop and adopt quality control measures, strictly enforcing reproducibility by using multiple team members to replicate product outputs. They have integrated mathematical science, data science and geographical information system disciplines into their team-oriented research.

“Teamwork allows students to experience accelerated learning,” Amin said. “They have built a solid foundation through this research project that they will be able to apply on future assignments.”

For more information about UWF’s Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering, visit