The Newcomers Cohort (Vermont)
The White House COVID-19 outbreak tracker became one of the most illustrative data pieces of the failure of the Trump administration in handling the pandemic.
The 21-year-old college senior behind the project started collecting that data out of curiosity on a piece of paper after Donald Trump tested positive last October.
Not long after, Benjy Renton’s other COVID-19 data projects and maps were being shared across the world, informing decision makers and driving national discussions about school reopening and more – work he had been doing throughout the pandemic.
“It snowballed into a much larger project that started initially with the first White House outbreak.. and went into December,” he said.
Benjy tracks cases in universities, too. And he tracks which counties in the United State are (or are not) meeting the CDC’s recently revised metrics for reopening schools safely.
He was in China last January (2020) when news of the outbreak spread across the world. When he returned to the U.S., he was shocked to find how few measures were being taken. His work visualizing COVID-19 data started not long after. From tracking testing to outbreaks in higher education, Benjy worked to get the data out.
Someone said he should be hung during a Reddit “Ask me anything event.” Online harassment comes with COVID-19 communication, no matter how much the source sticks to the data.
“The raw numbers don’t lie,” he said. “You can use the numbers to lie, but the raw numbers don’t lie. It’s important for people to understand exactly what is happening.”
A few words from those who nominated Benjy:
“Benjy has been doing basically everything since the pandemic started, from contact tracing the White House to making accessible visualizations of vaccine rollout to writing a weekly newsletter summarizing all of the relevant new Covid information from that week. I can’t point to any single person and objectively say he saved their life, but I have no doubt that his data work has gotten thousands of people through the pandemic well-informed, well-protected, and maybe even a little less lonely. And he’s been doing all of this on top of a full course load from a NESCAC.”
“Benjy Renton has done a remarkable job at collating information about the pandemic, both nationally and with specific focuses on higher ed, the White House, and Vermo nt. His weekly newsletters have done an incredible job at summarizing the state of higher ed and the country on a weekly basis. His various projects and even his Twitter feed have been fantastic, thorough, and all-encompassing sources of analysis on the pandemic and its effects. His skilled data interpretation and visualizations have been outstanding. He’s perhaps known most widely for his incredible trackers on COVID cases in colleges and the White House, vaccine distribution, and more–some of which he established far before other news sources attempted something similar. The most remarkable element of Benjy Renton’s work is that he’s not a scientist, or a professional journalist, but a college student. His work is driven not by professional obligation but by care and interest, yet it exceeds that of professionals.”