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UCSF Health Atlas: Exploring how environment influences health in California

Stamen’s collaboration with UCSF takes on new urgency in the age of COVID-19.

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A team from UCSF School of Medicine Dean’s Office of Population Health and Health Equity, led by Dr. Debby Oh, hired us to build an online tool to help researchers explore how our environment influences our health at a local level across California. The goal of the project was to give researchers new insights into the social determinants of health. The data was vast, even for us: powered by numerous publicly available data sets, and curated by UCSF into compelling data stories.

The interface was designed with health researchers, policy makers, and community advocates in mind to allow exploration of over a hundred social determinants of health and health metrics across the state at the census tract and county levels. On top of this interface is a series of data stories that help bring this work to life, illuminating issues like food and housing insecurity across the state, neighborhood by neighborhood.

As the project was nearing completion, COVID-19 began its relentless march across the globe. In this terrifying moment, the team saw an opportunity: to help us understand COVID’s spread and health impacts through our communities by leveraging the existing dataset on the Health Atlas.

The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to reveal that illness affects our communities in California unequally. In addition to the disparities of who is able to shelter-in-place and who isn’t, it’s clear even from the preliminary statistics that rates of infection and death affect people differently due to a multitude of socioeconomic and environmental factors. As more local data becomes available and as the tool continues to update daily, we hope that the Health Atlas can help us better understand the inequities underlying the COVID-19 pandemic and work toward a future where all Californians can be healthy.