Moreton Hall and Other Hotspots

Nicholas Hill, CEO
By: Nicholas Hill
7th January 2021

As we enter into the UK’s third lockdown, Nick Hill, CEO, reflects on how we have used our unique tech skills during this pandemic to meet staffing challenges.

Two weeks ago I’d never heard of Moreton Hall, but it suddenly came to my attention thanks to an experimental app that one of our software engineers had just developed.

Our office is just south of Cambridge, but we have staff who live over quite a wide geographical area. Since we came out of the original full lockdown earlier this year we have implemented a mixture of office based and home working, with most staff coming into the office around two days a week – the maximum that our office and lab can support while remaining Covid-safe. While the general incidence of Covid infections in the district where our offices are located has been low throughout the pandemic, we’d been wondering if the same was true for all the places where our staff lived. Was there a higher risk of certain staff bringing infections into the office because of where they lived?

Tailor made data

None of the internet resources we could find displayed the infection rate information we were looking for in a way that was quick and easy to assess. We wanted a way to quickly review infection rates in the areas where our staff lived, excluding the clutter of data from all other locations. We wanted to see a high–level overview, with the ability to drill down and look at the smallest districts for which data was available. We wanted to track local trends and, as a baseline, to compare them to the national average. And, of course, we wanted to be always working with the latest government data.

A bespoke solution

After a bit of discussion, we set someone in our software team the task of investigating what was possible, which resulted in a plan to develop a bespoke app. It was quickly determined that we could pull the raw data we needed from an open government source and that we could build the app around the set of postcodes where our staff lived.

The user interface of our CovidView app starts with a simplified heat map of the counties around Cambridge, divided into the government’s mid-tier (LTLA) regions, which have names like South Cambridgeshire and Uttlesford. Only LTLA’s where our staff live are shown on the map. Each LTLA is colour coded with its average infection rate but also has an indication of the range of infection rates within it. The range indication comes from data for the government’s lowest-tier (MSOA) regions, once again only reported for postcodes where our staff live. Clicking on an LTLA in the map brings up detail data for the district, a list of MSOAs within it and a graph showing infection rate trends, compared to national average.

CovidView Capture
Example Screen Grab of CovidView

It took about two weeks to develop the app, with quite a lot of back and forth between the developer and HR team as we worked out how some of its features were best implemented. It was once we’d got the basic functions up and running that I started to notice some unexpected features in the infection rates, the first of which was happening in an MSOA called Moreton Hall. One of the LTLAs on our map is West Suffolk, which showed up in low infection rate green on our heat map. However, there was a single anomaly within the West Suffolk region – Moreton Hall showed up in red, whereas the other six MSOAs where our staff lived were all shades of green.

Finding the Hotspots

We reached out to the member of staff who lives in Moreton Hall and found they were well aware of the problem because the area had recently been subject to a coronavirus alert and West Suffolk Council were working hard to bring the problem under control. Infection rates in Moreton Hall (and two other hotspots we investigated at the same time) have subsequently reduced, while our CovidView app has since highlighted new hotspots that we should look at carefully.

Running a business

Like all businesses, we have been trying hard to maximise our operational efficiency within the constraints imposed on us by the pandemic. Our experience of home working is that it has a negative impact on support for junior staff, communications between teams, team cohesion, group problem solving and creativity. These factors only became clear over time and are despite our best efforts to use electronic communications to maximum effect. To overcome these effects, we have been trying to use our office and lab facilities as much as possible, while remaining Covid-safe. This requires a careful balance between the need for business effectiveness and our responsibility to keep all our staff safe, especially as we now go from limited restrictions into higher lockdown guidelines.

Our new CovidView app feels like an important tool to help us achieve this balance, as we continue to search for new and better ways to run the business in these pandemic-dominated times.