An app that examines COVID-19 Neighbourhood Vulnerability: Geography student Cathy Yang and her teammates win the Esri Canada App Challenge for their timely project ‘reCOVer’

May 22, 2020 by Department of Geography & Planning
Picture of Cathy Yang and her teammates Tia Datta and Chloe Nguyen, (image source:

Picture of Cathy Yang and her teammates Tia Datta and Chloe Nguyen, (image source:

Congratulations to geography undergraduate student Cathy Yang and her teammates Tia Datta and Chloe Nguyen for winning first place in the Esri Canada Centres of Excellence (ECCE) App Challenge! Under the name QuaranTEAM, the group created reCOVer – an app that helps examine how resilient or vulnerable Toronto communities might be in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

With health as the theme of this year’s ECCE App Challenge, Cathy and her teammates were eager to create something that would be helpful and relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic. While brainstorming they came across other examples where GIS was being used to better understand the spread of the disease. As Cathy describes, this was an eye-opening moment for them: “We realized the impactful role maps and GIS could play in monitoring and preventing transmission of communicable diseases, not only by tracking cases, but also by identifying vulnerable populations.”

It also provided an opportunity to apply knowledge she had gained in her coursework, particularly GIS for Public Health (GGR372), where Cathy learned about using socioeconomic data to create vulnerability indices for chronic disease. “We thought it would be interesting to apply that to the current pandemic, as early on, data was coming out on how particular subsets of the population, such as seniors, were susceptible to the disease.”

reCOVer, according to its webpage (also created by QuaranTEAM) and preview video (see below), is an app that aims to help Toronto residents, public health officials, emergency response staff, and planners  have more information about neighbourhood vulnerability based on demographic and health care metrics. In addition to its map view, it also offers a tool for creating summary reports of chosen locations, as well as directions to the nearest hospitals and testing centres.

Professor Michael Widener, who taught GIS for Public Health this past semester, expressed great pride in the team for their hard work and well-deserved success: “These students did an excellent job at combining their expertise in geographic information systems, data science, and health to make a timely, well-designed app…It’s a great way for UofT to end its first year as the newest Esri Canada Centre of Excellence program.”

The University of Toronto joined the ECCE program in the fall of 2019, becoming part of an initiative to encourage innovation in GIS research and teaching in spatial data management and analysis. This partnership offers students access to resources, expertise, and opportunities offered by Esri Canada, including initiative such as the yearly App Challenge. Together with ongoing health geography initiatives in the department, students such as Cathy can continue to engage in research and innovation that address some of the most pressing social and health issues of our time.

Preview video of QuaranTEAM’s app reCOVer (from reCOVer webpage)