A need for open public data standards and sharing in light of COVID-19

Lauren Gardner, Jeremy Ratcliff, Ensheng Dong and Aaron Katz at the Lancet: “The disjointed public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated one clear truth: the value of timely, publicly available data. The John Hopkins University (JHU) Center for Systems Science and Engineering’s COVID-19 dashboard exists to provide this information. What grew from a modest effort to track a novel cause of pneumonia in China quickly became a mainstay symbol of the pandemic, receiving over 1 billion hits per day within weeks of its creation, primarily driven by the general public seeking information on the emerging health crisis. Critically, the data supporting the visualisation were provided in a publicly accessible repository and eagerly adopted by policy makers and the research community for purposes of modelling and planning, as evidenced by the more than 1200 citations in the first 4 months of its publication. 6 months into the pandemic, the JHU COVID-19 dashboard still stands as the authoritative source of global COVID-19 epidemiological data.

Similar commendable efforts to facilitate public understanding of COVID-19 have since been introduced by various academic, industry, and public health entities. These costly and disparate efforts around the world were necessary to fill the gap left by the lack of an established infrastructure for real-time reporting and open data sharing during an ongoing public health crisis…

Although existing systems were in place to achieve such objectives, they were not empowered or equipped to fully meet the public’s expectation for timely open data at an actionable level of spatial resolution. Moving forward, it is imperative that a standardised reporting system for systematically collecting, visualising, and sharing high-quality data on emerging infectious and notifiable diseases in real-time is established. The data should be made available at a spatial and temporal scale that is granular enough to prove useful for planning and modelling purposes. Additionally, a critical component of the proposed system is the democratisation of data; all collected information (observing necessary privacy standards) should be made publicly available immediately upon release, in machine-readable formats, and based on open data standards..(More)”. (See also https://data4covid19.org/)