10 Signs a COVID Outbreak Is Heading to Your Area, Research Shows

A new report shows that a spike in these factors precedes a spike in coronavirus cases.

Even eight months into the U.S.'s battle with this pandemic, there is still so much we have to learn about the novel coronavirus—between the never-ending list of new symptoms, the questions about long COVID, and the hunt to find cures and an effective vaccine. As people living in the year 2020, what do we do when we don't know something? We Google it, of course. And when everyone around you begins to search the internet for the same answers, it might actually be saying something about the pandemic. In fact, a new study from the Mayo Clinic says that spikes in web searches for 10 specific keywords could be signs that a COVID outbreak is headed to your area. Read on for the tell-tale queries that could mean coronavirus is about to surge near you, and for more on which places may already be headed in that direction, read about The 10 States on the Verge of COVID Surges.

The recent study, which was published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, analyzed Google web searches to find a link between certain keywords and coronavirus outbreaks across the U.S. The Mayo Clinic researchers used Google Trends data from Jan. 22 to April 6 to see which search terms were more popular ahead of an area's outbreak. They found that there was a distinct correlation between an increase in searches for certain terms that preceded initial outbreaks by about 16 days.

"Our study demonstrates that there is information present in Google Trends that precedes outbreaks, and with predictive analysis, this data can be used for better allocating resources with regards to testing, personal protective equipment, medications and more," study author Mohamad Bydon, MD, a Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon, said in a statement. "Looking at Google Trends data, we found that we were able to identify predictors of hot spots, using keywords, that would emerge over a six-week timeline."

Even now, "COVID symptoms" is a highly searched term in five states—Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, and Rhode Island—all of which are starting to see their case counts climb. Want to know which terms are able to predict the arrival of coronavirus? Read on to find out, and for more on places that are starting to take things seriously, here are The States That Are Showing the First Signs of Another Lockdown.

"COVID symptoms"

Man with fever and chills symptoms from covid

"Coronavirus symptoms"

Young ill woman holding hand on forehead, checking temperature, resting, lying on the couch with a cozy blanket. Using purple face mask to prevent other people from getting infected.

"Coronavirus testing center"

Doctor in a protective suit taking a nasal swab from a person to test for possible corona virus infection on the street. Diver through covid-19 testing center in city.

"Loss of smell"




Female and male doctors analyzing medical samples in a lab

"Face mask"

A woman holding a protective face mask over her mouth about to put it on.

"Coronavirus vaccine"

Hand holds Coronavirus Covid-19 Vaccine glass bottle

"COVID stimulus check"

stimulus check and envelope on a wooden table

Combinations of "sore throat," "shortness of breath," "fatigue," and "cough"

A young man with coronavirus symptoms sitting on the couch reading a thermometer with a face mask pulled down under his chin

And for another tell-tale sign you have the virus, check out If You Can't Taste These 2 Things, You May Have COVID.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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