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Waterloo students help create platform being used by Montreal to flatten the COVID-19 curve

Thursday, April 9, 2020

University of Waterloo Faculty of Mathematics students help create a web-based data-gathering platform that has been promoted by Montreal’s public health authority to its citizens in an effort to flatten the curve of COVID-19 in that city.

Five Waterloo Faculty of Mathematics students teamed up with their peers from Waterloo Faculty of Engineering,  McMaster University, University of New Brunswick and the University of Toronto during their unexpected time off from school due to COVID-19 to construct the interactive website flatten.ca. The French version of the website, Aplatir.ca, has been translated by the City of Montreal and promoted to citizens there.

Surya Krishnan, a first-year computer science student at Waterloo, who was a member of the group that conceptualized Flatten and is aSurya Krishnan, a first-year computer science student at Waterloo and a team lead in charge of maps for Flatten. team lead in charge of maps, is looking forward to other cities and provinces encouraging residences to utilize the free platform. 

“We’ve started with Montreal but will be moving to other municipal governments and hopefully provinces,” said Krishnan. “Some hospitals are also using this as a tool to help determine where potential sick patients are coming from and the possible number. 

“Flatten can help us understand how COVID-19 spreads, so hopefully other cities can see what Montreal and some medical organizations have seen in us.”

The incorporated non-profit has 28 members, including advisors such as Geoffrey Hinton and has Google Cloud, The Vector Institute, ESRI and CIFAR as sponsors.

Within the first week-and-a-half of being launched, 337,000 people visited the website to answer the nine questions the students came up with through the help of medical advisors.

The platform allows users to self-report if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or travelled outside of Canada in the last 14 days and if they’re immunocompromised or over the age of 60. 

In addition, to mapping potential COVID-19 cases and areas where there may be a higher population of at-risk individuals, Flatten also collaborates with health authorities across Canada to record confirmed cases. The goal of the site is to help Canadians keep the number of cases down by getting an idea ahead of time of where the danger zones are and where the next confirmed cases could be.

The data collected is organized and sanitized so that it can be analyzed and outputted into heat maps. Ivan Nesterovic, a second-year Waterloo computer science student and data team lead for Flatten.

“Right now, we’re are just working to improve the platform to make it more accessible for people across Canada,” said Ivan Nesterovic, a second-year Waterloo computer science student and data team lead for Flatten. “This includes text functionality, improving the user experience of our website and showing more statistics.”

Another student who has logged several hours working on the website is first-year Waterloo computer science student Miraal Kabir. Kabir is Flatten’s user experience and user interface designer. But not only did she design the new site and the soon to be released dashboard; she designs her own designs.

“At first, I was very overwhelmed when they asked me to be part of the team,” Kabir revealed. “I didn’t believe as a first-year student I had the skills to contribute. But I was actually really amazed that just based on what we’ve learned in first year we could already make a difference." 

Miraal Kabir, a first-year Waterloo computer science student and user experience and user interface designer for Flatten.

The students are not yet sure what they will do with the website following the containment of the coronavirus outbreak, but hope the huge dataset they’re collecting will help to support research into preventing future pandemics and controlling future diseases.

List of Waterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics and Faculty of Engineering students working on Flatten:

Owen Brake 

Ethan Chen

Samuel Hao 

Miraal Kabir

Surya Krishnan

Ivan Nesterovic                    

Emily Tao                                                                                                                                                   

William Wen 

Eric Zhai

Yifei Zhang 

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