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Maryland's coronavirus ZIP code map may be having unintended consquences, officials warn

In hard-hit Prince George's County, people may be using the ZIP code maps to make bad decisions about where to shop or go to the pharmacy.

LARGO, Md. — WUSA9's website tracking data shows huge numbers of people are spending time looking at Maryland ZIP code maps to find out how many COVID-19 cases are in their areas.

Even though the data was put out by the Maryland Department of Health, local health officials say they suspect the state's map may be having some unintended consequences.

In hard-hit Prince George's County, people may be using the ZIP code maps to make bad decisions about where to shop or go to the pharmacy, according to Dr. George Askew, who oversees the county's Department of Health and Human Services.

"There's an inherent danger in this data," Askew warned. "They will say: 'Wow! The numbers seem to be much smaller in another ZIP code. That's probably going to be a safer place for me to go do that essential shopping.'"

Askew says that interpretation is mistaken.

"The fact of the matter is, COVID-19 is spread widely throughout the community," Askew said.

RELATED: Why ZIP codes are an imperfect unit to measure COVID-19 cases

Askew says this is causing people to do unnecessary traveling, which could actually cause more exposure all around.

He also suspects that cases in poorer neighborhoods with less access to health care have been under-counted.

The result is that more well-off areas like Upper Marlboro look like relative hot zones of infection, which may create a false sense of security in ZIP codes where more people struggle and fewer have been tested.

RELATED: Maryland ZIP code mapping could be misleading, local health officials fear

"One thing we've addressed, and we’ve fixed and we feel good about, is that we opened up Fed Ex Field so we are now able to test anyone who is symptomatic so that we don’t have any longer an issue of access, at least when it comes to receiving some assessment," Askew said.

Use the tool below to see how many coronavirus cases have been reported in your ZIP code:

Askew encouraged residents who want to be tested to call 301-83-6627 to see if they qualify.

Askew says the bottom line is that no geographic location in his county is safer than any other, regardless of the numbers on the ZIP code map.

He added that the closer to home residents stay and the more they practice social distancing, the safer they will be.

RELATED: DMV Coronavirus Tracker: See where every reported COVID-19 case is in Maryland, DC, Virginia

RELATED: DMV now reporting hundreds of new cases of coronavirus per day

RELATED: Maryland to get $2.3 billion in federal relief, senators say

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