The Specialists Cohort (Puerto Rico)
“I am an applied statistician working at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard University. My research focuses on applications in genomics and cancer but I have also developed statistical methods for estimating excess deaths.
“I was born and raised in Puerto Rico (PR) and all my family lives there. When the pandemic started in March 2020 I became particularly concerned about PR because, from previous experience, I knew the government had a very poor data infrastructure. “
“It was clear that tracking the situation via data was going to be key during this pandemic. As late as June the government was still not reporting key outcomes such as the number of tests performed each day, so it was impossible to fully assess the public health situation. With help from some key people in the Department of Health, I obtained access to data and built a simple public dashboard showing a test positivity rate graph.”
“This led public health officials, scientist groups, and reporters to ask questions and make requests. By responding to these requests, the dashboard eventually became very detailed. Results are automatically updated every hour and all the code and data are publicly available. This took hundreds of hours of unpaid work and writing many hundreds of lines of code and explanations, so I am particularly happy to hear of this nomination.”
A few words from those who nominated Dr. Rafael Irizarry:
“Months after Hurricane María, the Puerto Rican government insisted only 64 people had died, despite data clearly indicating the toll was higher. Only after a publication co-authored by Rafael received media attention did the government correct this. At the start of the pandemic, PR again provided little data-driven information. Rafael convinced PR to make data public then wrote over 2,000 lines of code to create a public dashboard that showed key metrics for monitoring the epidemic. Just after the dashboard’s July launch, it showed worrisome trends convincing PR to impose restrictions, likely saving 100s of lives. Unfortunately, under pressure from business, they relaxed restrictions. Scientists pointed to Rafael’s dashboard demanding this decision be reversed. Cases rose for months before the government finally listened to data and re-instituted restrictions. In January Rafael was named to a scientific advisory board, and with decisions now data-driven, cases are steadily dropping.”