Google Maps has introduced a very useful new feature in the form of a COVID-19 heatmap for its mobile apps.
The new map layer, announced in a blog post by Google Maps' product manager Sujoy Banerjee, lets you view a 7-day average of coronavirus infections per 100,000 people, and whether it's trending up or down. The update went live on September 23, and will appear on iOS and Android devices in the coming week.
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When the update has reached your device, you can try the new layer by tapping the layer icon in the top right corner of the main app screen, just below the search bar.
From the Layers menu that then pops up, tap "COVID-19 Info."
You'll then be able to see the color-coded map and labels with additional information Google has promised.
The map works at a national level in all 220 countries that Google Maps covers, but also offers state, county and city-level data in certain areas, almost certainly including the U.S. and U.K. You're unlikely to be doing much international travel at the moment, but being easily able to track different infection rates in the next town over, or the places where your friends and family live, could prove quite handy for people needing to travel locally.
Google says the data for these layers come from outlets it already uses as trusted sources for COVID-related searches in Google Search. This includes newspapers like the New York Times, institutions such as John Hopkins University and the World Health Organization, and national and local governments.
As Banerjee writes in the blog post, the addition of the COVID-19 Info layer will help users to "make more informed decisions about where to go and what to do." It's an excellent addition to Google Maps with a view to helping its users manage the pandemic, alongside a previous update that shows users local eateries that offer take-out and directs them to where to place an order.