- Creators of the John Hopkins coronavirus tracker told The Washington Post that the numbers tell a more shocking story on the way the coronavirus is impacting different communities in the US.
- The database used to track cases in the US, features three additional sets of information that help paint a better image of what was unfolding in different states and counties.
- Statistics obtained from the data showed that communities of color, specifically those that were low income, were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
- The creators are hoping viewers are able to see past the initial numbers and understand how different people are experiencing what’s happening.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
While millions may be keeping track of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic using a tool from John Hopkins University that gathers numbers on how many have been infected, the creators say viewers are missing some important points amidst all the data, The Washington Post reported.
“Numbers in some ways instill this sense of comfort. But then, on the other hand, they can be wrong,” Lauren Gardner, the associate professor at Johns Hopkins’s Whiting School of Engineering told The Post. “And they can be wrong for lots of different reasons.
According to The Post, the team of researchers behind the tracker is concerned that policymakers and the public are not seeing how the pandemic is impacted by things like healthcare, racial disparities, and income inequality in the US.
“This is the first time data has been such a central part of the narrative,” Beth Blauer, the executive director of Johns Hopkins University’s Centers for Civic Impact told The Post. “The human connection – I think we need more of that in the larger national narrative. It just feels like the compassion is getting lost.”
According to The Post, the project began when Gardener advised first-year Ph.D. student Ensheng Dong to start a map tracking the cases in January. Dong had lived through the 2003 SARS outbreak and closely followed what was happening with the coronavirus. He was aware that each person infected or who died from the virus could be a classmate or close friend.
“I wanted to use my experience to collect data to show the public,” Dong said. “And the first member of the public was me.”
While the project wasn’t intended to be as large as it ended up, Doug spent 12 hours a day collecting data and strategically showing it.
“I wanted to alarm people that the situation was getting worse,” Doug told the Post about his use of a black background and red dots.
When creators made a US database alongside the initial global database, the numbers they eventually saw told a horrifying story of what was really happening in America.
For instance, the tracker found that while Black Americans were less than half of Washington, DC’s population, they accounted for three-fourths of the coronavirus deaths; and in Arizona, Native Americans accounted for 18% of deaths but make up only 5% of the population.
“When you actually start looking at the affected populations, the breakdown of race and age and ethnicity and socioeconomic demographics, it becomes so much more human,” Gardner told the Post.
The John Hopkins data isn’t the only set of numbers highlighting the unequal impact of the coronavirus.
An Insider poll from earlier this month found that one in four Black Americans said they knew someone who died of the coronavirus, compared to 14% of white Americans.
In that same poll, about 16% of white respondents said they knew someone who was hospitalized for coronavirus, compared to 27% of Black respondents.
A report by researchers at amfAR, a non-profit focused on AIDS research, found that US counties in “which at least 13% of the population is Black account for 58% of COVID-19 deaths and 52% of cases nationwide,” Business Insider previously reported.
In Georgia for example, Black coronavirus patients accounted for 83% of required hospitalization. while African-Americans only made up a third of the population.
Blauer told The Post that she noticed that when it came to charting data for the US, there needed to be more context to understand the fuller picture of what was happening, which is why they added additional sets of information that they hoped would help people make more sense of what was happening in specific locations.
The group added information on health-care capacity, which looked at how many ICU beds and the staff there were, how many people access the local health-care system, and through what time of insurance, private or public, to help give more context to the numbers. They also added information on demographics such as racial breakdown, unemployment figures, and age distribution in each county, and finally, they did a comparison of county disease data to that of the entire state.
“The goal was to measure whether the virus posed an equal-opportunity risk or whether all that historical baggage would determine who lives and dies,” The Post wrote.
However, the group had some challenges especially since each state reports information on possible infections differently, and some did not report at all, which made their job a bit harder.
“It’s one thing that this is not consistent globally, that Spain presents data differently from Indonesia, and Indonesia reports differently from the US,” Gardner told the Post. “The thing that’s crazy to me is how different the reporting is within a state in the United States, let alone state to state.”