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How Facebook Friendships Could Predict The Spread Of COVID-19 In Missouri

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Beth Prusaczyk
Beth Prusaczyk (at left) mentored intern Kathryn Pietka (at right) this summer for the Institute for Informatics at Washington University School of Medicine.

Do Facebook connections predict the spread of COVID-19? And can Missouri policy makers use that data to ascertain the potential risks of colleges reopening?

Researchers at Washington University's Institute for Informatics believe the answer to both questions is yes. Using Facebook’s Social Connectedness Index, they focused on the potential impact of students and faculty returning to various counties within Missouri. Their new paper, “The Potential Impact of Student Travel in Missouri on COVID-19 Spread,” details their findings.

The paper is co-authored by Beth Prusaczyk, an instructor at the Institute for Informatics. Early on in the pandemic, she came across studies that used Facebook data to track the spread of coronavirus in places like New York and Italy. She wanted to use that method and apply it to Missouri.

Prusaczyk’s intern, Kathryn Pietka, led the study and is listed as its co-author. Pietka also helped present its key findings to a statewide pandemic task force earlier this month.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Prusaczyk and Pietka joined host Sarah Fenske to talk about their findings and what they’re keeping an eye on in the coming months as students and faculty return to campuses across the state.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Lara is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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