FLATTEN Canada: UW students fight virus with data

Photo by Lou Bocanegra

Monitoring and controlling COVID-19 cases is a growing global mission as infection numbers continue to rise exponentially.

Countries such as South Korea and China are using the private health data of its citizens to help pin down their number of cases – but in a country like Canada where micro-monitoring health records is not as common, governments have to find new means of acquiring potentially life-saving data. Introducing FLATTEN Canada — a collaborative project between university students from across the province, including UW and UofT.

FLATTEN is a web-based application that allows Canadian residents to self-report their current symptoms and to keep track of COVID-19 cases across the country, quite literally helping FLATTEN the curve.

“We have a medical team that has created this forum where [users] are able to, based on the different types of symptoms, identify as ‘[a] potential case, [a] vulnerable individual or [as] other, meaning they aren’t vulnerable and aren’t a potential case,” Shrey  Jain, a first-year student at the University of Toronto and leader behind the FLATTEN team, said.

The application then takes that information and displays it in the form of a heat map. Not only is the recorded information used by those curious about the disease’s developments, but Jain also said it is vital to anyone looking to take action against COVID-19, including supporting local initiatives.

“It’s very important to know where these different demographics of people are. Are there a lot of vulnerable people? Okay, then maybe we want to make sure that grocery stores have food ready for these people and make sure that [vulnerable people] don’t have to put their lives at risk by going outside. It’s also important for health care systems. It’s really about understanding how to allocate resources,” Jain said.

This led Jain to put together a team of both friends and experts in order to design FLATTEN. First-year UW computer science and business administration student Surya Krishnan is FLATTEN’s front-end team lead.

Krishnan led FLATTEN’s front-end team in creating FLATTEN’s data heat map, and the machine learning team in analyzing and modelling collected data.

“I’ve worked to scrape and collect data for the map and have worked to code the map itself. Currently, I’m working with the team to introduce an analytics dashboard and extrapolate our data to understand the true spread of COVID-19,” Krishnan said.

The application has reached 200,000 total data entries, but the team’s ambitions for the project do not stop there. The team wants to make sure they can get the word out to as many people as possible, since FLATTEN, as Jain said, is only as valuable as the number of people that use it.

Other goals include seeing the online resource become the go-to page for COVID-19 data in Canada and transforming FLATTEN into a public dataset researchers can use to understand and combat the pandemic.

“I plan to [provide] more information about the disease through our map so that everyone in Canada can better understand and adapt to the pandemic. This includes but is not limited to creating an analytics dashboard, gathering more statistics and extrapolating our data to predict future trends of the disease,” Krishnan said.

The FLATTEN web application also includes up to date information on COVID-19 within Canada, all available at FLATTEN.ca.