How Valencia crushed Covid with AI

By Willem Marx

When Covid-19 hit Spain last spring, the country quickly hit breaking point. In Madrid, doctors described an “avalanche” of patients as they practised “combat medicine” and emergency triage in intensive care units that were operating on a war-like footing. The first Covid-19 death was recorded on March 1. A month later, just under a thousand people were dying each day. Ambulances choked hospital approach roads and ice rinks were transformed into morgues.

In mid-March, as the virus spread to all regions of Spain, Nuria Oliver realised that this poorly understood threat required immediate action. And Oliver, who is a data scientist, felt particularly well qualified to help with this public health crisis: in her previous roles at telecoms giants, she had developed tools using GPS data to track the spread of H1N1 influenza in Mexico, Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and malaria in Mozambique. “The context was there, and the timing was right,” she says. Oliver reached out to her local government contacts in the region of Valencia, explaining how data might help combat the unfolding crisis.

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