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Northeastern Researcher Helps CDC Predict Coronavirus Spread With Mapping Technology

BOSTON (CBS) -- Alessandro Vespignani points to a computerized map with red dots slowly filling up certain cities. The Center for Disease Control's dire warning about the spread of the coronavirus is partly based on Vespignani's work in Boston.

"You see that the epidemic is expanding now," he said, moving his finger from China to Europe.

"You see that area start to light up?" He pointed to New York City. "New York has a larger risk because the traveling flow is large. You see Boston too."

He's a Northeastern University researcher whose mapping technology predicts the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19. "The next few weeks is a crucial time," Vespignani said.

His algorithm uses travel data and information about people's habits and movements. He forecasts Boston will have more coronavirus cases within the next two weeks to a month.

"We have a lot of visitors. We have a lot of students," he said. "It's important to be ready but not panic."

A coronavirus spread map by Alessandro Vespignani. (WBZ-TV)

That's what Boston health officials are working on. "Our goal is to keep that risk low, but we're preparing ourselves for the risk to be high," said the City's Chief of Health and Human Services Marty Martinez.

He and other health officials met with city staff Thursday to talk about preparations for the coronavirus.

At the state level, health officials have said they're monitoring more than 600 residents at risk of having been exposed. Boston's number is much lower.

"Boston's monitoring 34 individuals, including the state's only confirmed case," Martinez said. "All 34 individuals we're monitoring do not have any symptoms."

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