Mapping the Fight Against COVID-19

KENNESAW, Ga. | Apr 27, 2020

KSU students, faculty and alumni assist with mapping coronavirus testing locations

Kennesaw State University senior Tammy Eifler plans to dedicate her career to helping people and making a difference, so she jumped at the opportunity to be part of a national effort to provide up-to-the-minute information about COVID-19 testing sites in the United States.

Eifler, a geographic information science major, is one of several Kennesaw State GIS and geography students, faculty members and alumni volunteering to assist the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association’s GISCorps program in maintaining an online map of testing locations nationwide. Eifler said it ties perfectly to her career goal of creating maps and conducting analysis for emergency operations or disaster management.

“Being involved in this project has confirmed for me that I found the right career path,” Eifler said. “I have found this to be a great learning experience and a very emotionally rewarding opportunity. It is an amazing feeling to know that I can help people who may be suffering and really need it.”

Anyone can access the free COVID-19 testing sites locator. People can enter a location in the search box and find the testing sites nearest to where they live.

GIS mappping
Artis Trice

Each volunteer “adopts” one or more counties in the United States. The participants check data daily about COVID-19 testing sites in their chosen counties from sources such as local governments, healthcare providers and news media reports, and then input any necessary updates to the map.

“The GIS students, faculty and alumni have this unique skill set where they feel called upon to help others where and when they can,” said KSU geography professor Nancy Hoalst-Pullen. “Clearly, geography plays an important role in understanding the diffusion of this virus. With each state focused on their own needs and policies, it is imperative to have one central place where people can find factual, real-world, real-time geographic information about testing sites that can help them during this pandemic.”

Hoalst-Pullen, for example, chose to focus on Vigo County, Indiana because she received her master’s degree there. Eifler selected three counties in Wisconsin where she has lived or family members currently live, and she devotes 30 to 60 minutes a day to researching and updating the information about their COVID-19 testing sites.

Kennesaw State student Artis Trice, a junior majoring in geography, adopted two counties in eastern Alabama, including the one where his sister attends Tuskegee University. The ever-changing response to COVID-19 resonated with him when he noticed that a testing site in the city of Tuskegee was listed on the Alabama Department of Public Health’s registry one day, but then gone from it the next day. Trice called the health department to ask why and was told that it was only a one-day testing location.

“That made me really understand that you have to be on your toes with keeping the information up-to-date, because people’s health is on the line,” Trice said. “It could be the deciding factor if someone is going to drive 50 miles to get a test or if they’re driving three miles to get a test.”

While Hoalst-Pullen is pleased by how many Kennesaw State students and faculty members have volunteered for the project, she is particularly impressed that dozens of KSU alumni are helping. She considers it an indication that KSU students are instilled with a sense of service, to apply their skills and knowledge toward the betterment of society.

Alumnus Tim Poe, who works as the enterprise GIS technical manager at Byers Engineering Company, said he was drawn to the COVID-19 mapping effort as part of his commitment to furthering the profession through targeted volunteer efforts. Poe earned a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees from Kennesaw State and also taught in the GIS program as an adjunct professor.

“One thing I always tried to emphasize to my students, that my professors had done when I went through there, was to get everybody focused that they’re part of a team rather than just an individual,” Poe said. “GIS is a tight-knit community. We share the belief that, while we may not be able to make a difference to everybody, we can make a small individual difference that collectively has a big impact.”

The coronavirus testing site map was launched in late March and will be available to the public until further notice. The KSU students, faculty and alumni are unified in their commitment to continue volunteering for as long as the need exists.

“As long as they’re still updating the maps for getting tested, I will be a part of the project,” Trice said. “I believe that people should have access to as many databases and resources as possible, so that they have information and they’re able to use it and act upon it.”

– Paul Floeckher

Submitted photos

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