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Mapping a world-wide worry: OC student charts coronavirus spread in real-time

Sean Heddle was looking for a career change after an injury left him unable to work as a concrete construction foreman.

He could never have imagined that his foray into the study of geographic information systems (GIS) would see him building a real-time map of a global public health emergency.sean heddle news blog image

Heddle, who hails from Kelowna, is currently enrolled in the GIS Certificate course at Okanagan College in Salmon Arm. His professor, Shelley Desautels, recently issued an assignment to her class, inviting students to build a digital map of a place or topic of their choosing.

Heddle decided to think outside the box, and ended up making the world his classroom. He created an interactive map of the spread of Novel Coronavirus, which was first reported in Wuhan, China on Dec. 31.

After continuing to refine the map over the past week, he is now attempting to stay on top of the waves of data around confirmed cases, deaths and how many people have recovered from the virus. Heddle is pulling data from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Johns Hopkins Centre for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) and other sites around the world.

“By day I’m a College student, but every morning and every night I’m updating the map,” says Heddle. “I would like to keep it going for as long as I can. It’s quite time consuming, but It’s been great hands-on experience working with the software we are learning in class, on a daily basis, and on something so complex.”

Heddle credits instructor for helping him gain confidence in his newfound tech career path.

“I’ve always had a tech background and an interest in technology,” he says. “But GIS involves very complicated software. There’s so much you can do with it, so many applications. Having a teacher like Shelley Desautels, who has been so patient and helpful, has really helped me get up to speed quicker than I expected to. I’m excited about the career and volunteer opportunities that GIS will open up for me.”

“I really like how Sean has used this project as a way to take an analytical look at spatial data. It’s turned into a multi-week project for him and he continues to learn as he goes, so I applaud his dedication to it,” says Desautels.

In his spare time, Heddle maintains 5iveby5ive media, providing everything from video production to drone services. As an experienced drone pilot, he often aids pet owners searching for missing pets. He also donates his product BEES NEEZ, an all-natural Okanagan bee wax paw and snout balm, to homeless individuals with pets.

More information about the Geographic Information System certificate program at Okanagan College is available at