Millions Use an Online Tracker to Map COVID-19 Cases Worldwide

Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins is helping to map cases in real time.

The Center for System Science Engineering at Johns Hopkins University is inspired by the goal “to better understand and improve societal, health, and technological systems for everyone.” Professor Lauren Gardner and graduate student Engsheng Dong created a COVID-19 tracking dashboard in January with the goal of having a user-friendly tool to disperse information. The COVID-19 Dashboard pulls data from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China, and local news sources. As the data is scraped, the website is updated continually during the day, through both manual and automated means.

Gardner’s article, An interactive web-based dashboard to track COVID-19 in real time, published in the February 2020 Lancet journal, discussed the evolution of the dashboard’s methods in both data input and output, along with the transition from the dashboard using a Google Sheets system to its current GitHub repository. Feature layers from the dashboard are now also incorporated with Esri’s Living Atlas of the World.

The team has expressed a desire to keep the tracker open for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak, and allows the data to be used by government agencies and for academic or research purposes. On April 14 a map centered on the United States was released, giving information by state and by county. In addition to the number of COVID-19 cases, deaths, and recoveries, the map generates an infographic that shows ethnicity, available hospital beds, and the percentage of citizens with health insurance. In March it was estimated that the dashboard fulfilled 1.2 billion daily requests for information.

In North Dakota, Governor Doug Burkum and the North Dakota Department of Health endorsed the Care19 app. Tim Brookins from Microsoft’s Fargo campus created the Bison Tracker app way back in 2013 to give North Dakota State University Bison fans a way to share their locations and statuses with other fans, and this platform provided the starting point for Care19. Users can log their location, and if a user contracts COVID-19, they can anonymously inform the Department of Health, which can then track possible contagion from the user’s previous whereabouts. The app is available for citizens to use on a voluntary basis.

Avi Schiffmann, a 17-year-old high school student in Washington state, built the tracker in early January to give users COVID-19 information. Data is scraped and updated every minute, with the primary sources listed as BNO News, the World Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visually the site provides both chart form and graphical map data. The tracker’s wiki page has general information about COVID-19 and a section that dispels common myths about the disease.

All of these trackers are great examples of systems engineers taking data and turning it into useful and easily communicated information. This data can be used by governments to make resource decisions or to track the growth and spread of the disease. Citizens can use the data to see what’s happening in their locations or in regions where their friends or family are quarantining.

Video of Lauren Gardner presenting the Johns Hopkins dashboard to Congress: