I’m an applied mathematician who has worked on evolutionary biology and cooperative social dynamics. For the last ten years or so I’ve been doing modeling of infectious disease transmission, most recently as per of Travis Porco’s group in the Francis I. Proctor Foundation at UCSF, and I’ve been working on COVID since March 2020.
At first I was working on fairly complex models of the disease process, which we used to provide projections of hospital demand to local and state health departments for planning purposes.
While I’m still doing COVID-19 modeling research, I noticed that people were consistently asking for up-to-date estimates of the reproduction number in the Bay Area.
The reproduction number, referred to as R – the number of cases caused by a single case on average – is a summary of how strongly the outbreak is growing or shrinking, that can be used to evaluate how well control strategies are working.
Estimating reproduction numbers can be made as sophisticated and complex as you like, but useful estimates can be done simply, and I realized that I could provide them as a service. I adapted some code I already had (having done similar analyses of measles and Ebola outbreaks) to make local and state R values from each day’s COVID case counts. To make it into a daily tracker website I assembled a team of volunteers from friends and colleagues to get it set up and keep it going, and we have had it running at https://ca-covid-r.info since June 2020.
As for myself, I’m continuing to work on COVID modeling focusing on outbreaks in congregate settings that drive racial disparities in the disease’s spread. In particular I’m working with the CalPROTECT project (https://amend.us/calprotect/) on describing and analyzing the horrible, extreme outbreaks that have occurred in the California prison system.
Being a descendant of refugees from the German concentration camps where so many people died from infectious diseases, with the racial disparities in imprisonment in the US, and the pandemic control measures that are necessary – serious reduction in prison population – not being carried out, I am committed to documenting and opposing this abuse of prisoners.
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!”
As a Stanford University physician with more than a decade of experience working with health data, Dr. Jorge Caballero could easily fit into both the specialists and the professionals groups of our awards program. His work during COVID-19 would indeed make him a finalist in either of those cohorts.
Dr. Caballero’s advocacy for data access and transparency, and his continued commitment to communicating the racial and ethnic disparities in testing, cases and vaccinations shown in the data, makes him stand out as a Provocateur.
In March 2020, Dr. Caballero cofounded Coders against Covid, a volunteer group that builds tech solutions to address the most pressing needs of those affected by COVID-19, challenging his local, state and federal officials to step up.
Dr. Caballero built the first nation-wide COVID-19 testing site directory in mid-March 2020, before most states even had comprehensive lists of their own testing site facilities.
Dr. Caballero also uses the power of his position and his Twitter account to share data and information about the state of Coronavirus in California and across the country on a daily basis. He keeps up with data in Arizona and Nevada, even sharing the work of our other COVID-19 Data Hero Award nominees:
When California spent $62.5 million on a contract with Verily – a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet – which led Trump to erroneously claim Google was building a site to help Americans find testing locations (a site Dr. Caballero would end up creating), Dr. Caballero stepped up and spoke out.
But the [Verily] partnership has also faced criticism from public health experts from the start, and left some elected officials in California frustrated by what they describe as a misguided approach to testing vulnerable communities.
Dr. Jorge Caballero, a Stanford physician and co-founder of the public testing database Coders against COVID, began warning CDPH contacts in April that poorer areas remained underserved by state testing sites. As he fielded requests in Spanish for help with the platform, it seemed that Verily wasn’t “nimble enough to address the demand and the evolution of the demand,” Caballero said.
“This whole strategy was just sort of backwards from the get-go,” Caballero said. “Why were we spending this money if it wasn’t solving problems, and it was creating additional problems?”
Not one to play partisan politics, Dr. Caballero calls out, defends, and makes policy recommendations to all of the science and data-backed decisions made across the country. His advocacy, insight and persistent communications about what the data tells us has impacted communities across the country, saving countless lives in the process.
A few words from those who nominated Dr. Caballero:
“If everyone would have just listened to him from the start, we would all be so much better off. California has made little effort to work with Hispanic communities, to communicate data with us regularly. It’s like we don’t matter. We’re dying and we don’t matter. The only person who seems to care is the doctor.” [Note: This submission was translated from Spanish]
“Jorge’s reputation as a physician, a scientist, as the “Data-driven MD,” could not be over-stated. I’ve never met a man who has worked harder to ensure accurate information reaches the public, that the accurate information is advocated for, and that the activism results in meaningful discussion and, hopefully, policy change. No one else could possibly be more worthy of a Data Hero Award than Jorge Caballero.”
Eizabeth Shulok started tracking COVID-19 in California in May 2020.
Using her expertise as a data scientist, she built her own website to track, analyze and visualize data in San Diego County.
“The data tells the story; I just paint the picture,” said Shulok.
Elizabeth works with the press to produce accurate data visualizations, including a recent project to map the CDC schools guidance by zip code in her state.
Elizabeth wrestled with the pushback she received when she started reporting on cases in K-12 schools, finding that many in San Diego county (and online) would harass, threaten and berate experts who cautioned about what was known and what was speculation about kids, teachers and school staff.
“The violence coming from some of the pandemic deniers has made me hesitant to post openly about COVID-19,” Elizabeth said.
Despite the risk, Elizabeth pressed on, continued to track and report cases (including cases in schools), and challenged early misconceptions and lack of transparency in her area.
“I wasn’t convinced we knew enough about the role children play in the pandemic so I decided to see what the data shows,” said Shulok. “The county provides data on COVID-19, but doesn’t display it in a way to see how transmission varies by age group over time. So I created my own charts to try to get a better picture of what is happening with kids in San Diego County and ended up expanding from there.”
Elizabeth feared for her own safety at times, even going so far as to remove her name from her projects. But seeing activists using her data confront the anti-science crowd online and in the news encouraged her.
“It has shifted my perspective. And seeing them go on air, doing interviews to counter the Reopen Now group’s narrative, and getting bashed online, puts my work into perspective. What I’m doing is fairly neutral and less controversial,” she said.
Elizabeth provides all of the data free to the public with complete transparency of where it comes from, which is almost entirely primary sources.
A few comments from those who nominated Elizabeth:
“Her data analysis has provided insights and views that have illuminated areas of concern, highlighted gaps in tracking and brought into question policies in place.”
“As a concerned parent and data scientist, Liz used her skills to compile an amazing data dashboard, coding to periodically scrape data from publicly available sources in an easy-to-use, centralized format to help better under the role of schools in the coronavirus pandemic. Since we know that asymptomatic spread and a lack of testing are leading to serious undercounts, Liz’s dashboard provides a critical lower bound of confirmed, official cases and other data points that allow for better policy decisions knowing it is the tip of the iceberg.”