Updated: Apr 7, 2020
Author: Ran Korber, CEO and Co-Founder, BreezoMeter
Today we face a global challenge: The spread of a global virus which, according to experts, presents "a once in 100 years catastrophic event". Just like we did with air pollution, pollen and fires, BreezoMeter wants to assist people in protecting themselves from COVID-19 as much as possible.
We decided to hold a week-long cross-team hackathon at the BreezoMeter headquarters to explore the links between air quality and COVID-19 in more detail. We also utilized our knowledge of personal exposure product design and calculated index to workshop a product that would truly help people at this time. To do this, we organized ourselves into different project groups across the company. Below you can learn more about our hackathon outcomes.
Project 1: Exploring the Connections between Air Quality & COVID-19
BreezoMeter Project Group 1 set out to explore what connections could be found between short and long-term air quality exposure and COVID-19 transmission, infection and symptoms. Here is a summary of some of our findings:
1) Air Pollution Exposure Increases Risk of Infection
As cited by the New York Post, Dr. Meredith McCormack, the spokeswoman for the American Lung Association and Associate Professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care at John Hopkins University has stated: "Exposure to air pollution is known to raise the chance of contracting viruses in the first place, regardless of underlying health conditions."
Further, studies have found that air pollution exposure can impact the way our immune system responds to respiratory viral infection in particular. The conclusion of this International Forum for Respiratory Research was that "exposure to common air pollutants can alter host immunity to respiratory viral infections...with significant public health implications for people throughout the world."
2) Long-Term Air Pollution Exposure Likely to Worsen Symptoms
We already know respiratory disease sufferers are more sensitive to air pollution. To illustrate this point, studies in London have shown the capital’s poor air quality leads to around 1,000 hospital admissions for asthma and serious lung conditions each year.
An increasing number of experts are extending this increased level of risk to COVID-19, including the European Respiratory Society: "Patients with chronic lung and heart conditions caused or worsened by long-term exposure to air pollution are less able to fight off lung infections and more likely to die. This is likely also the case for Covid-19. By lowering air pollution levels we can help the most vulnerable in their fight against this and any possible future pandemics."
3) Pollen Season Risks Being an Additional Burden
As pollen season kicks off across the western hemisphere, an increasing number of allergy sufferers are confusing their symptoms with COVID-19 , which could lead to an increased number of negative COVID-19 tests and healthcare strain.
As asthma sufferers with seasonal allergies are at more risk during pollen season, there is also a risk that more asthma attacks will be triggered by pollen exposure, potentially placing additional strain on healthcare systems.
Project 2: Building a COVID-19 Personal Risk Assistant
When it comes to COVID-19, information changes so rapidly it's hard to get a handle on a single source of truth that would help us to understand our own personal risks for being infected with the virus. To address this problem, we set out to build a real-time and personalized risk index for contracting COVID-19 based on openly available information.
We then progressed to build a prototype of a personal assistant tool that would enable individuals to visualize their personal and environmental risk of being infected based on live information of their location and their individual responses to a series of questions regarding their behavior.
Based on the results the user received, they would then receive actionable information and recommendations as well as helpful live and official information for their location.
Here is a preview of our prototype - for simulation purposes, only the US was covered:
Based on the location-based environmental risk factors we had defined, we were also able to start working on a COVID-19 risk-based heatmap of the US. You can see an example of how this might look here:
How Did We Build the Risk index?
We based our risk index and weighting of different risk factors on credible sources such as academic research papers on COVID-19, SARS, HIV & other infectious pandemics and official COVID-19 trend statistics.
The most important factors impacting likelihood of COVID-19 were:
Individual behavior and lifestyle - for example, how well WHO hygiene recommendations are followed; and
Current COVID-19 trends at the user’s location as well as government response (here we looked at factors such as total number of positively confirmed cases, estimated asymptomatic people and time/extent of lockdown measures).
When testing the index, we were pleased to see it working logically but the model itself will require further tuning and testing. In addition, we would need to expand coverage considerably for this product to become a viable tool for people to base decisions on.
Hackathon Conclusions: Air Quality Information Matters More Now than Ever
Considering the extent that sensitive groups for air pollution and COVID-19 overlap, managing exposure to harmful triggers has become more important now than ever. The more people around the world can utilize actionable air quality information to help them avoid breathing hazards in the air around them, the better.
Why We Are Giving Free Access to Our Air Quality Data
Covid-19 is a brand new disease that most of us hardly knew anything about 3 months ago. A lot more academic research is needed to understand it in more detail. The more the global community can learn about its triggers and associated symptoms, the better we’ll be able to manage, tackle and treat it as a global community.
This is why BreezoMeter has decided to open up its air quality data for free to research groups exploring the negative health impacts of poor air quality exposure. This includes our historical air pollution and pollen datasets and API integrations.
If you represent an organization or institution involved with non-commercial research and plan to publish your findings publicly, our data might be available to you. Contact our team to confirm your eligibility.
BreezoMeter is the leading provider of street-level and real-time air quality information, including air pollution, pollen and active fires data. Their free Android and iOS apps help individuals protect themselves from harmful air exposure. Their APIs enable businesses to increase sales & product engagement. BreezoMeter is integrated by leading brands across healthcare, smart home, automotive, and cosmetic industries.