Virginia consolidates COVID response data
- By Stephanie Kanowitz
- Jul 09, 2020
Virginia’s award-winning platform launched in 2018 to track opioid addiction has been expanded to help with the commonwealth’s COVID-19 response.
The Framework for Addiction Analysis and Community Transformation (FAACT), a cloud-based data-sharing and analytics platform, has been augmented with new datasets, data sources and capabilities to study two critical aspects of COVID response: the capacity of the state’s health care system to handle COVID-19 patients and the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies. To do this, the platform pulls data from several organizations, such as the number of hospital beds and ventilators available, the number in use by COVID-19 patients and the capacity of intensive care units.
Data sources include the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM), the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, and the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA), a private association of hospitals, health care systems and long-term care facilities.
Data included within FAACT is updated frequently, sometimes as often as every 15 minutes, to provide near-real-time information to decision-makers, allowing them to quickly identify hospitals in need of supplies and pharmaceuticals, locations with the largest outbreaks of COVID-19 cases and hospitals and regions that have surge capacity.
“Having them work with us has been a blessing because we don’t have to go to all of those individual organizations to pull data,” said Carlos Rivero, the state’s chief data officer. “The data providers always have complete control and authority over their datasets whenever they’re engaging in a data-sharing relationship like the one we have.”
That relationship is the Commonwealth Data Trust (CDT), a secure and legally compliant information-sharing environment. This means, for example, that VDH removes personally identifiable information (PII) from data it submits. All that transfers is the patient’s age, gender and dates of symptoms onset, hospitalization and death, if applicable.
Departments can integrate with FAACT in several ways. Some use application programming interfaces that allow the state to connect dynamically, while others use a more manual process, with someone putting a file on a secure file transfer site for automatic ingestion into the platform. The state also offers a software agent that participating organizations can deploy in their environment to make data available.
“We have a consolidated, secure data-sharing platform that all of the data goes into,” Rivero said. “We all understand that this is the best available data that we have from each of the respective partners.”
All of the involved organizations can tap into the platform to access the data -- either by logging in or connecting via an API. (Rivero said he is working on enabling individuals who have not contributed data to also access it.) The agencies choose how they want the data and can build their own intelligence with it, using whatever tools they prefer. For instance, VDH uses Tableau to build a dashboard on its website, while VDEM uses RTIS and Rivero’s team uses Microsoft Power BI and Qlik.
“It doesn’t matter what tool you’re using,” he said. “The fact that we have one single place where everyone can go to get the most up-to-date, accurate information gives us equal opportunity to build out intelligence products that are meaningful to our own stakeholders,” he added. “Everyone has their perspective. The individuals at VDH have a very different perspective and action that they’re going to take in comparison to the folks over at VDEM.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced the expansion of FAACT on June 12, but VHHA developed its first dashboard in early April, Rivero said.
The benefits of using the platform for the pandemic response have been swift, he added. For instance, early on, many organizations were struggling to obtain PPE. “We were able to make that data available to VDEM -- and they handle a lot of logistics and supply-chain issues during emergencies -- so they were able to help get those places the supplies they needed,” Rivero said. Since then, no organizations have reported problems.
Another dataset comes from VDH and the Division of Consolidated Labs showing the number of specimens tested at labs – not to be confused with the number of people tested because one person can have multiple tests. This data shows each lab’s daily output and capacity. Initially, not many labs were testing, but now they perform more than 10,000 tests per day, Rivero said.
What’s more, the two agencies send the number of unique individuals tested per day by ZIP code, which shows where tests are happening to help officials determine how to best allocate coverage.
“This is a platform where we’re not just integrating and consolidating data, but we’re making data accessible to the decision-makers that need to take action,” Rivero said.
Recently, he’s begun to shift his focus from health to economic recovery to identify data sources that would support the $14.66 million Economic Resilience and Recovery Program that Northam announced June 15. One of the program’s projects includes $75,000 for testing a plan to deliver COVID-19 medical supplies, tests and equipment via drone. FAACT could help identify areas that would benefit from such a service.
Northam also announced a new suite of technology tools on June 12 to help out-of-work Virginians. More than 800,000 filed for unemployment between March and early June. One tool is the Virginia Career Works Referral Portal, a statewide platform designed to streamline intake processes at state agencies and connect people with training, certification, education and employment services. The other is the Virginia Career Works Dashboard, a data visualization tool designed to make information about the labor market more accessible.
FAACT’s ability to give state and local officials the ability spot and respond to dangerous trends in opioid abuse in near-real time while protecting privacy earned it the 2019 Best in Class Government Innovation Award for state and local government projects.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.