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Coronavirus: Data Work Creates National Picture of Outbreak

The COVID Tracking Project collects info from all 50 states and D.C. to create a comprehensive set of testing data for the coronavirus in the U.S. Data sets include results, pending tests and total residents tested.

by / March 13, 2020

With the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) spreading throughout the United States, civic technologists have created a new platform to provide a comprehensive resource for national testing data.

The platform is called the COVID19 Tracker, and what it does is essentially compile data available from all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia to create one holistic set of testing data. This data includes positive and negative results, the number of pending tests in given areas, and the total people who have been tested within each state. It is, of course, limited by the reporting being done by individual states, some of which is more robust than others, but nevertheless, the platform has emerged as one of the most comprehensive sources of national testing data.

The project has proven to be a popular one, with its Twitter feed gaining more than 5,000 new followers in the past 12 hours. It was born out of two separate efforts being brought together. The first initiative belonged to Jeff Hammerbacher, founder and general partner at Related Sciences, which is a venture firm within the medicine and sciences space. Hammerbacher initially built a tracking spreadsheet for this info. Separately, journalists Robinson Meyer and Alexis Madrigal built another tracker for a story in The Atlantic. On March 7, they combined their work, put out a call for volunteers to help with the data work, and the COVID19 Tracker was formed.

The data on the COVID19 Tracker can also be downloaded by other civic technologists; there’s an application programming interface (API), or they can simply download a file. That availability of info has already sparked other efforts, including this data dashboard.

The COVID19 Tracker is not the only civic tech effort filling reporting and resource gaps that some critics attribute to a poor and delayed testing response to the outbreak from the federal government at its highest levels. As the virus has continued to spread during March — leading to disruptions in everyday American life that range from the cancelling of March Madness to the delayed release of major blockbuster movies — other data-based and tech-related efforts have taken hold as well.

The New York Times has created a data map of every coronavirus case in the U.S. Bloomberg Philanthropies — one of the largest single funders of innovation work in the local gov space — has stepped in to provide American city hall leadership with virtual tech assistance and coaching, as well as accurate information that can potentially be used to respond on the front lines. The Bloomberg charity is also facilitating info sharing between cities like Seattle that have been at the forefront of the outbreak and other municipalities that can learn from it.

In other coronavirus planning and response news, the National Association of State CIOs has published a related guide for its membership this week, while other technologists have compiled data from other countries to paint a picture of the illness’ severity.

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