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Image: Fludemic

By combining a range of private and public information, a small startup says it is able to predict COVID-19 hot spots at the neighborhood level a week out — with 92% accuracy.

Driving the news: The startup, Data Driven Health, made a version of its flu and COVID-prediction model freely available Wednesday, offering data down to the neighborhood level.

Why it matters: Assuming the company's Fludemic model proves consistently accurate, governments and health systems could use such data to set policy and allocate resources, while individuals could use it to evaluate the personal risk of planned outings.

How it works: Fludemic takes in a range of data daily using a mix of clinical data, socioeconomic indicators and factors such as mask-wearing policy and mobility trends.

Yes, but: While the model is said to be 92% accurate at detecting hot spots, it is somewhat less accurate when looking at sparsely populated areas or predicting death rates.

Between the lines: The company began working on a flu prediction model last year, but quickly shifted gears to COVID-19 once the pandemic began.

  • While the neighborhood-level data is being made publicly available, Data Driven Health has a premium product aimed at governments and health systems that uses more data types and offers predictions down to the block level.

The big picture: Others have used a mix of tech and data to map disease. Google, for example, had a flu tracker that aimed to predict flu trends using search queries. That effort shut down in 2015 amid criticism. More recently, smart thermometer maker Kinsa has spotted flu outbreaks.

What's next: Longer-term, the company hopes to be able to update its models even more frequently as well as to address other types of health conditions.

  • "We want individuals to be able to see what's happening in their communities in real time or near real time," CEO Jack Rush told Axios.

Go deeper

"Neanderthal thinking": Biden slams states lifting mask mandates

States that are relaxing coronavirus restrictions are making "a big mistake," President Biden told reporters on Wednesday, adding: "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking."

Driving the news: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday he will end all coronavirus restrictions via executive order, although some businesses are continuing to ask patrons to wear face masks. Mississippi is lifting its mask mandate for all counties Wednesday, per Gov. Tate Reeves (R).

Some companies will keep mask mandates in states that lifted COVID-19 restrictions

Photo: Emaz/VIEWpress via Getty Images

Some of the biggest chains in the U.S., including Target and Starbucks, will continue to require masks and limit capacity in Texas and Mississippi after the states lift coronavirus restrictions, Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: The Republican governors' move to reopen "100%" has divided the business community, with some welcoming the decision while others worry about risk of backslide on progress and put workers at risk.

Scoop: U.S. begins denying Afghan immigrants

Afghan refugees on a bus bound for temporary housing after arriving in Greece. Photo: Byron Smith/Getty Images

The Biden administration has begun issuing denials to Afghans seeking to emigrate to the United States through the humanitarian parole process, after a system that typically processes 2,000 applications annually has been flooded with more than 30,000.

Why it matters: Afghans face steeper odds and longer processes for escaping to the U.S., despite the earlier sweeping efforts by the Biden administration to assist its allies. Immigration lawyers and advocacy groups say the government has set untenable barriers to a safe haven in the U.S.

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