Lessons from the COVID data wizards

Article by Lynne Peeples: “In March 2020, Beth Blauer started hearing anecdotally that COVID-19 was disproportionately affecting Black people in the United States. But the numbers to confirm that disparity were “very limited”, says Blauer, a data and public-policy specialist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. So, her team, which had developed one of the most popular tools for tracking the spread of COVID-19 around the world, added a new graphic to their website: a colour-coded map tracking which US states were — and were not — sharing infection and death data broken down by race and ethnicity.

They posted the map to their data dashboard — the Coronavirus Resource Center — in mid-April 2020 and promoted it through social media and blogs. At the time, just 26 states included racial information with their death data. “Then we started to see the map rapidly filling in,” says Blauer. By the middle of May 2020, 40 states were reporting that information. For Blauer, the change showed that people were paying attention. “And it confirmed that we have the ability to influence what’s happening here,” she says.

COVID-19 dashboards mushroomed around the world in 2020 as data scientists and journalists shifted their work to tracking and presenting information on the pandemic — from infection and death rates, to vaccination data and other variables. “You didn’t have any data set before that was so essential to how you plan your life,” says Lisa Charlotte Muth, a data designer and blogger at Datawrapper, a Berlin-based company that helps newsrooms and journalists to enrich their reporting with embeddable charts. “The weather, maybe, was the closest thing you could compare it to.” The growth in the service’s popularity was impressive. In January 2020 — before the pandemic — Datawrapper had 260 million chart views on its clients’ websites. By April that year, that monthly figure had shot up to more than 4.7 billion.

Policymakers, too, have leaned on COVID-19 data dashboards and charts to guide important decisions. And they had hundreds of local and global examples to reference, including academic enterprises such as the Coronavirus Resource Center, as well as government websites and news-media projects…(More)”.