The GEOINT Response

As confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to rise, GEOINTers deliver valuable insights into the pandemic response


Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) was informed of an outbreak of “pneumonia of unknown cause” detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. The virus causing the outbreak was quickly determined to be a novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Unprecedented actions have taken place around the world to mitigate the spread of the virus. And in response to this ongoing global public health emergency, GEOINT experts deliver a valuable lens into the pandemic response.

Mapping Epidemics

Governments and major health organizations historically have leveraged mapping and spatial analysis to manage disease outbreaks. Maps supply updated details of confirmed cases, high risk populations, and available or needed health-care resources.

“Tracking systems continued to evolve alongside web capabilities, online platforms, and mobile applications. Advances in location technologies, including geographic information systems (GIS) technology, have helped facilitate and improve response,” wrote Este Geraghty, Chief Medical Officer and Health Solutions Director at Esri.

Esri is supporting their users and the community at large with location intelligence, geographic information system and mapping software, services, and materials that people are using to help monitor, manage, and communicate the impact of the outbreak.

The WHO Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Situation dashboard, an interactive map-based tool, provides a visual landscape of cases by date and frequency and maps the number of cases at a country and regional scale. It also shows statistics of confirmed cases and deaths.

The WHO gathers the latest scientific findings and knowledge on COVID-19 and compiles it on the database. According to the organization, the database is updated daily from searches of bibliographic databases, hand searches of the table of contents of relevant journals, and the addition of other relevant scientific articles. Entries in the database may not be exhaustive and new research is added regularly.

The WHO Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Situation dashboard | Image Credit: WHO

The Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University also developed an interactive web-based dashboard to visualize and track reported cases in real-time.

The dashboard, introduced publicly on January 22, illustrates the location and number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, deaths and recoveries globally. The CSSE monitors various twitter feeds, online news services, and direct communication sent through the dashboard. But before manually updating the data on the dashboard, they confirm case numbers with global, regional and local health departments, as well as city- and state-level health authorities.

The interactive web-based dashboard developed by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University | Image Credit: JHU CSSE

“GIS provides many capabilities to make the most of limited resources in order to safeguard community health,” wrote Geraghty.


NASA first experimented with the satellite provision of healthcare in 1966, with the ATS-1 spacecraft, to provide patient care to rural neighborhoods in Alaska. Satellite-based patient care, telemedicine, has been successfully used in countries such as Australia, Albania, Canada, India, Italy, Romania, Russia, and Scotland. Due to the contagious nature of COVID-19, the use of satellite communication allows quarantined diagnosis without increasing the amount of face-to-face contact between patients and healthcare providers, a major step in reducing the risk of spreading the disease.

Satellite-powered internet is connecting people not only with their doctors, but with their teachers, employers, customers, friends and families. It delivers businesses and families essential broadband access to online education, business collaboration and communication tools, telehealth and critical government updates.

Satellite imagery and remote sensing organizations provide users with safe and remote ways to collect global onsite information. And the demand for satellite imagery continues to grow. Planet is one of the many Earth observation companies fielding inquiries regarding remote monitoring.

“We have received inquiries asking to use satellite imagery to collect information about operations and activities in places where sending people might expose them to unnecessary risks … We believe satellite data collection may provide a safe, affordable alternative to other methods of information gathering, potentially making it a critical component to an organization’s business continuity plans,” a Planet spokesman, told Space News. “Planet foresees customers using remote sensing data to monitor the economic impacts of COVID-19, and, in the future, tracking recovery and growth.”

The Satellite Industry Association (SIA) recognized the vital role of the commercial satellite industry during the COVID-19 pandemic and in a press release urged lawmakers to recognize the essential role satellites play and to assist the satellite industry in future challenges that may arise that could impair the ability to provide vital services to government, defense, enterprise, and consumer customers.

“During a crisis such as the pandemic, satellites also provide government customers including the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with a wide variety of critical crises communications, remote sensing, and other services vital for use both in the United States and around the world,” the press release stated. “DHS named satellite operations as an essential part of functioning critical infrastructure that is imperative during the response to the COVID-19 emergency for both public health and safety as well as community well-being.”

Featured Image Credit: CDC

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