A note from the COVID-19 Data Hero Awards program organizer

Grateful.

The time I’ve spent processing nominations, interviewing nominees, writing their profiles, and working with our panel to select winners of our Inaugural COVID-19 Data Hero Awards left me truly grateful.

With the wealth of resources across the United States and Canada, from a college student tracking cases in the White House to a pediatrician developing and communicating vaccines, I can imagine no greater range of talents than those we showcase in this program.

When I made the decision to start this program in January 2021, I envisioned it as a way to build a map or master directory of sorts so that the public and other experts could learn from those who have made data communication central to their efforts during COVID-19.

While I have spoken to a handful of the people on this list in the past, and have heard of a few dozen more, even I did not appreciate how hard people from all backgrounds and levels of expertise, with limited resources or minimal notoriety, were conquering the virus in their communities through effective communication of data and science. 

As the awards portion of our program closes, our directory will continue to grow, so please nominate whoever has been a data hero for you during this pandemic for recognition on our site.

The purpose of this program has always been recognition, not competition. The awards allow us to highlight 26 exceptional data communicators and advocates, but that in no way means that every other person submitted is not equally deserving of praise.

Some of those who we considered as finalists graciously bowed out, wanting to remain in the program but yielding the spotlight to those who have been under cloudier skies. 

And while we received nominations for brave heroes like Dr. Cleavon Gilman, who lost his job for simply telling the public that Arizona had no staffed ICU beds, and devoted volunteers like those behind the vaccine-alerts.com project in Oklahoma, we tried to maintain our focus in consideration of the final awards — those who made data, data-driven analysis and science the center of their public communications.

We broke up our list of nominees into five categories. Within each group you’ll find a range of expertise, experience and personalities. We wanted our finalists to represent their peers, while acknowledging the handful who stood out among them.

In the end, the decision to select just one hero per group to recognize as a “winner” became too difficult. So for each cohort of heroes, we decided to recognize a winner, a runner-up, and all other nominees with a reward for their efforts. We also want to reward those who won the public vote through online voting, which more than 35,000 unique IP addresses cast ballots for.

Online Voting Winners:

The NewcomersRachel Woodul (North Carolina)
The PressMary Landers (Georgia)
The ProfessionalsMatthew Holloway (Missouri)
The SpecialistsDr. Emily Smith (Texas)
The ProvocateursRyan Imgrund (Ontario, Canada)

We also decided to honor three data hero nominees who have spent the last year working on COVID-19 in public service or as volunteers. 

After all awards are given, our program will give $10,000 in awards to our finalists – far beyond our original budget of $3,000, but worth every penny.

I have discovered so many amazing new people through this program, and I hope you will, too.

Congratulations to all of our nominees, finalists and winners. The community of resources built during COVID-19 should be widely recognized and celebrated for the efforts they put into this unprecedented time. 

Thank you,

Rebekah Jones

Note: All award recipients will be announced at 5:00 PM Eastern Time on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, here on our website and on Twitter.

Christian Hammond

The Professionals Cohort (California)

Christian Hammond is a software developer and founder of Beanbag, Inc. in the San Francisco Bay Area.

During COVID-19, Christian worked to build an information and data portal for his home county in California, compiling all available data into a single access point for the public.

“I grew up in Butte County, CA, and as the early surge of COVID-19 began shutting down the world around me, I started an effort to keep people back home informed so they could make safe choices. This became the Unofficial Butte County COVID-19 Dashboard,” Christian said.

“Every day, using state and local data, I update the dashboard and write reports on Facebook and Twitter for thousands of people (including educators, healthcare workers, business owners, as well as friends, family, and those I’ve yet to meet), and provide data exports for others to use. I believe it’s important for people to use whatever skills they possess to help their communities in times of need, and this is how I’m choosing to use mine.”

A few words from those who nominated Christian:

“Christian Hammond has volunteered countless hours, on a daily basis, since June 2020, to provide current and updated data for Butte County residents. He presents this data in a narrated form as well as in the form of “easy to understand” graphs, via Facebook and Twitter accounts. Like many people in my county, I view his dashboard every day to keep informed. I use this information to make decisions on how to keep me and my family safe. I have been very impressed with the research and knowledge he has imparted, and with the compassion he uses to answer his followers questions.”

“He saw a communication void and decided to fill it with reliable information. He’s also super responsive and keeps politics out of his posts for the most part. My dad emailed him a lot of questions and Christian took the the time to explain answers to all of his questions. Christian is absolutely a citizen hero!”

Click here to visit Christian’s Twitter page.

Click here to visit Christian’s COVID-19 data site.

Rafael A. Irizarry

The Specialists Cohort (Puerto Rico)

Dr. Rafael Irizarry (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.”

Click here to visit Dr. Irizarry’s Twitter page.

Click here to visit Dr. Irizarry’s data site.

David Marconnet

Professionals Group (Alabama)

David Marconnet (Alabama)

David Marconnet started Bama Tracker as a side project to help Alabama citizens better understand the COVID-19 data coming from the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH).

Today, the site provides the most comprehensive view of COVID-19 data for the state of Alabama.

With a background in graphic and web design, David took the mess provided by the state and turned it into a data empire — one he plans to continue to build on and expand long “after” COVID-19.

BamaTracker.com has been visited by more than 1.5 million people since March 2020, and has been used by government leaders, medical professionals, teachers and many others as a source for current data and trends on COVID-19 in Alabama.

“I never imagined the impact it would have on so many people and am honored to have been able to build the site and have it become such a valuable resource,” said Marconnet.

Marconnet said one of his goals for Bama Tracker was to present the data in a way that any person could understand, so that they could better follow the course of the pandemic.

Another goal, Marconnet said, was to present the data from an apolitical viewpoint, though he quickly found out how even tweeting “Have a good weekend and wear a mask” became politically charged during the pandemic.

A recent article in the Redstone Rocket praised David’s efforts, noting:

Marconnet launched the third iteration of the website in January – with expanded data about COVID-19 vaccine efforts. He said that with the new website, “it has been an exercise in finding out what the health department cares about, what the hospitals care about, what people care about.”

The Redstone Rocket
Screenshot of http://www.BamaTracker.com

A few comments from those who nominated David:

“This resource has been my go-to for information on the pandemic in Alabama since its inception. I also deeply appreciate how David holds ADPH accountable when data is unclear, delayed, or potentially misleading.”

“From the start of the pandemic, David sought to capture state level data and feed it into visuals and models that are more readily understood by the public. His level of transparency in data reporting is outstanding. He quickly became the go-to source for individuals, local media, and scientists within the state. “

Spread the word:

@davidmarconnet, creator of @BamaTracker, is a #COVID19 #DataHero worthy of all the praise, and a finalist for the COVID-19 #DataHeroAwards. See all nominees at: DataHeroAwards.org. Check out his data resources at: http://www.BamaTracker.com

Dr. Ellen Eaton

The Specialists Group (Alabama)

Dr. Ellen Eaton is an Infectious Diseases Physician with a Masters in Public Health at the University of Alabama.

Dr. Ellen Eaton (Alabama)

In March 2020, Dr. Eaton began a Facebook page, “Dr. Ellen Eaton Coronavirus Updates,” to combat misinformation she noticed was being shared by friends and family on social media.

“I knew that Alabama would be disproportionately affected by COVID due to low public health access, literacy, and other social determinants of health,” said Dr. Eaton.

“So, I committed my free time to improving public health through data-driven COVID messaging initially targeted to friends, family, friends of friends in the Deep South.”

Dr. Eaton now has more than 12,800 followers on Facebook, 32,497 weekly reaches, and 25,313 weekly engagements with viewers from across the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Syria, and India, she said.

“The most important aspect of my page is clear, consistent, evidence-based clinical and policy updates tailored to a lay audience with little to no medical background (like my hometown of Dothan, Alabama).”

A few comments from those who nominated Dr. Eaton:

“Dr. Eaton has done an exceptional job keeping people updated and informed about COVID-19, and sorting through all the misinformation online. Her posts have been one of the only sources I’ve trusted throughout this pandemic. (And she’s also treating patients at UAB!) She’s a data hero and a healthcare hero too!”

Click here to see Dr. Ellen Eaton’s Facebook page.

Click here to follow Dr. Ellen Eaton’s Twitter page.