The Professionals Cohort (Florida)
Carley Fitzgerald is a geographer and GIS expert from Highlands County, Florida, who’s dedicated, innovative and bold leadership in Florida changed how experts approached issues of geospatial epidemiology across the country.
In March 2020, Carley began working in the COVID-19 Information & Planning Section of the Highlands County Emergency Operations Center. A study released by ESRI around that time warned that Highlands was one of the most vulnerable in the nation, so Carley quickly got to work.
She worked on everything from sourcing, managing and analyzing data, to epidemiological modeling, to application development and public outreach.
“It is my hope that by providing the data, analysis, applications, and more to the County we were able to better prepare and respond to COVID-19 in our County despite our higher-than-average vulnerability to the virus,” said Carley.”
She built an application for residents to sign up for a waitlist when the state failed to provide the resources to do so, supporting her community’s access to information about vaccine distribution.
“As a geographer, I am familiar with sourcing, managing, and analyzing data,” said Carley. “I was able to quickly get to work learning GIS epidemiology models and providing key metrics regarding the status of COVID-19 in our County and State to Emergency Managers and Administration.”
Her role in managing the crisis for her community extended to advocating for data access across the country. A champion for women’s equality in advanced sciences, she was also elected to serve on the the board of Women in GIS (WGIS), an international non-profit and professional organization.
“The aim of WIGIS is to serve as a safe place for women from all geospatial fields to work towards overcoming things like: job discrimination, lower pay, professional isolation, and other common barriers women might face,” said Carley.
She currently serves as the lead for the professional development committee for WGIS, as well.
“It was especially important for me to join the organization, and now volunteer my time with WIGIS because GIS, as with pretty much most other sciences and technology fields, are very male dominated” said Carley. “Most GIS Departments are relatively small and that leaves many women in a unique position where they are the only woman in the department.”
“I worked with a colleague to develop a number of virtual events that help women in the GIS field advance their careers. We also developed a webinar series called Women in GIS Careers. We know that in a field that is male dominated representation matters and we are using the platform of our webinars to highlight successful women in GIS and their accomplishments in their field while they share how they got to their current role. We commonly speak about issues like imposter syndrome, where sometimes you just feel like you don’t belong in the role you have. Hearing these successful women speak about overcoming similar hurdles is reassuring and helps us to all know we are capable and not alone in our struggles.”
Examples of Carley’s work are submitted below.
An “At-A-Glance” Dashboard for Emergency Managers
This dashboard was created as a quick way to determine the condition in regional hospitals, our own bed availability, currently active cases and more.
Tracked Vaccine Rollout and Distribution Patterns
One of the priorities that I consider especially important for vaccine rollout are areas with high concentrations of currently active COVID-19 cases per capita. So I compare the per capita estimated current active cases for all the counties in Florida to their % of the population fully vaccinated. After highlighting the top 5 counties and Highlands in each graph you can see that they are negatively corelated. In fact, 6 of the 7 lowest fully vaccinated counties in Florida are all located in the Heartland region of Florida. Highlands County on this week was also high in concentrations of current active cases. This information is useful for advocating for increased vaccine allotment.
Weekly Trend Graphs for the County and State
These graphics were great at illustrating the progression of COVID-19 in our county and were shared at County Commissioner meetings with the public.
Tracked Hospital Bed Availability Over Time
In June I started tracking hospital bed and ICU bed availability in our county and in the state to provide a better perspective on the condition of the hospitals.
Calculated Senior Case Death and Case Hospitalization Rates for Our County and State.
Our county has consistently had a case hospitalization and case death rate that was higher than the rates of the state. This was important for future projections of COVID-19 conditions in our County. After determining an accurate case death and case hospitalization rate, I applied the CDC guidance for average time a new case takes to end up in the hospital and potentially succumb to the virus. This allowed me to project out new hospitalizations, and new deaths based on current case load.
One of the first things we knew about the virus was that it was more deadly to the older generations. I use state data to calculate how deadly by finding the case death rates based on smaller age brackets. Awareness of this metric puts just how perilous outbreaks can be in senior communities like ours.
I also assisted with the vaccination process by creating an online application that members of the public could register for a vaccine waitlist. In the one month the website was live before the state provided a solution to the public, is accumulated over 100,000 page views and 0ver 30,000 registrations. Not too shabby for a county that has a population of about 105,000.