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Major Google Maps update will show you the severity of coronavirus outbreaks

Published Sep 4th, 2020 7:05PM EDT
Google Maps Features
Image: Maria Sbytova/Adobe
  • A new Google Maps leak reveals Google is working on a coronavirus layer for the application that will detail the severity of COVID-19 at state and country levels.
  • Google will rely on information from various trackers that monitor the spread of the virus worldwide and display numbers on top of states or countries and tell users whether the number of cases is increasing or decreasing in that region.
  • The information would be available at a glance and could prevent the spread of the virus, as some people might choose to postpone their trips to regions of the world experiencing massive coronavirus outbreaks.

Google started putting its resources to good use from the early days of the novel coronavirus in an attempt to provide fast access to information and help people better navigate the pandemic. Google Maps was at the center of those efforts. Google made it easier for business owners to update the schedule of their stores in real-time during lockdowns, a feature that would show Maps users what businesses were still opened. Google Maps also started highlighting nearby restaurants that deliver food and place warnings inside the app for searches involving medical locations. Google also highlighted the usefulness of custom Google Maps that can help out specific groups of users during the pandemic and used its access to incredible location and travel data to show officials whether local communities were respecting lockdowns or not.

It turns out that Google isn’t done turning Google Maps into a useful tool for fighting the coronavirus, and the best feature related to the COVID-19 pandemic is yet to come. Google Maps will get a coronavirus layer that will display the severity of a COVID-19 outbreak on the map, which could turn out to be a life-saving feature.

Health experts do not expect the virus to ever go away and say the pandemic will end a year from now in a best-case scenario. A combination of factors will get us there, including effective vaccines that can stop the spread of the illness and public health measures that can reduce the risk of transmission. The vaccines aren’t available, but they might be rolling out widely at some point in 2021, following an expected late 2020 approval. The public health measures will not change. The frequent washing of hands, face masks, and social distancing will need to be enforced for months to come, to reduce the COVID-19 spread rate and prevent outbreaks from getting out of control.

Access to pertinent information about COVID-19 transmission rates could further help people when it comes to social distancing practices. That’s where Google Maps can help, as Google could tell you how bad the coronavirus outbreak is in the region you’re looking to travel to. This could impact your travel decision, and could potentially reduce the spread of the illness.

Google is yet to announce the Google Maps feature, but Jan Won scored screenshots from the app that show how the new functionality might work. The leaker found imagery that shows a coronavirus layer is coming to Google Maps. That Google is willing to add an entirely new layer to one of its most popular apps shouldn’t be surprising. After all, COVID-19 is here to stay, and it will be a part of our lives for plenty of time to come.

Once enabled, this layer would deliver outbreak information on the map. The borders of states and countries will be highlighted, and Google will list a number over each state or country and tell you whether the number of cases is decreasing or increasing. Here’s the map of America:

Here’s the same concept for Europe:

It’s unclear when the feature will be released, but it’s a good idea. It’s too early to say what level of granularity Google can afford. It’s great to see the evolution of a state’s outbreak on a map, but it would be even more useful to have the same kind of data for counties and cities. It’s unclear whether Google would have access to such data, to begin with. 9to5Google says the data will be sourced from various resources that monitor the spread of the virus globally, including The New York Times, Wikipedia, John Hopkins University, and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.

The screenshots, and the fact that Google is looking at data from India, seem to suggest that the coronavirus Google Maps layer will be available for every country that shares data with the world about the coronavirus pandemic. That should also help with traveling to other countries in the coming months, assuming that borders stay open, and travel will be possible. A quick look at the evolution of the COVID-19 outbreak at your destination might convince you to postpone the trip.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.