Dr. Ferial Pearson

The Provocateurs Cohort (Nebraska)

Dr. Ferial Pearson (Nebraska)

Dr. Ferial Pearson is an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where she specializes in teacher education.

Dr. Pearson has earned three national and several local awards for her work in education and social justice, including the Kennedy Center’s Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher award. She is the founder of the Secret Kindness Agents Project, which is the subject of two published books, her dissertation, and a TEDx Talk. The project is in over 500 K-16 schools worldwide and has been highlighted by Hallmark, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, and SPLC’S Learning for Justice Magazine.

Her decorated tenure as a leader in public education kept her alert to public disinformation regarding COVID-19 in schools.

“When the pandemic began, I noticed that there was a lack of data coming from the school districts about where cases were, the number of cases, the lack of mitigation efforts and resources in local schools, etc.,” Ferial said. “Soon, school employees and families began sending me their stories, the emails they were getting from schools about cases, and how they are feeling about what is really going on. I publish all this on my Facebook page after verifying they are true, and I will blur out people’s faces and names to protect identities.”

Much like Florida, Nebraska never issued a mask mandate, and there’s no consistent policy on when or why schools should open partially or completely.

“They also do not seek input from teachers or the community or look at actual data about whether or not it is truly safe to have hundreds of children and teachers in a school building that is not properly ventilated,” she said. “I hear from custodians, teachers, administrators, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, students, family members, and school nurses. “

“We are hoping that getting the truth out there will at the very least make more parents choose to keep their kids at home, and at the most, convince public officials to do the right thing and keep our school communities safe. Unfortunately, many people in power – including superintendents – have contacted my dean and senior vice chancellor asking them to censor me online and accusing me of stirring up drama with misinformation.

“However, I have kept the evidence, and have had to stand up to my administration about my right to post as a private citizen, parent, and concerned community member. Getting in trouble at work will not stop me from posting as I refuse to be complicit with abusive behavior towards school employees.”

A few words from those who nominated Ferial:

“She has fearlessly, after repeated retribution and complaints from district administrators across Nebraska, continued to share information regarding the spread of COVID and the lack of safety in schools locally and nationally, as well as the lack of safety at local businesses in Omaha and Lincoln metropolitan areas. She has become the voice for those without one, often receiving posts from teachers and other workers about their working conditions, and she posts it all for them anonymously. Without her, few would know about the state of COVID in schools. She is not yet tenured, but is on the tenure track at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in the College of Education, and is literally risking her career due to her activism. I can think of no one more deserving, nor anyone for whom this award would be more impactful, than for Dr. Ferial Pearson.”

Ryan Imgrund

The Provacateurs Cohort (Ontario, Canada)

Ryan Imgrund (Ontario)

In March 2020, Ryan was a biostatistician at Southlake Regional Health Center in Newmarket, Ontario where he was in charge of creating a model to predict future ICU utilization. The one value found to be predictive in nature was the effective reproductive value (Rt). Due to Ryan’s past experience at the Public Health Agency of Canada, it was a value he was able to calculate.

In May of 2020, Ryan shifted gears when he realized that this important metric, used throughout Europe, was referred to by the Province of Ontario constantly but it’s value was never publicly released.

In the summer of 2020, Ryan extended his Rt calculations to include all 34 public health units in Ontario, Canada. This extension proved extremely beneficial when the Province of Ontario included the Rt value in their “regional framework” but still did not release the value publicly.

In the fall of 2020 Ryan departed from Southlake and started working independently. He realized the “hiding” of this value wasn’t just an Ontario problem; in fact, it happened throughout Canada. He shifted gears and started providing this value for every large Canadian province as well as all urban centers.

This value is updated on his Twitter profile (@imgrund) every morning. He has not missed a daily update since May 2020.
The value of Ryan’s effective reproductive number calculations was further elevated  when several public health units in Ontario started using both his values and his methods, including Ottawa Public Health.

March 1 post on case rates and reproduction rate of COVID-19 in Canadian provinces and select cities, published on Ryan’s Twitter feed here.

“Currently, I am the only person reporting regional effective reproductive values (Rt) in Ontario, a metric that is being used by our Government to re-open our Province. No one else releases this value, not even our Government,” Ryan said. “I have expanded this and now release the Rt for EVERY Canadian Province and EVERY major Canadian city – EVERY morning at 8:00 EST. I am a biostatistician, who works with several major public health units, including Ottawa, Ontario Canada, and Six Nations, an indigenous community in Ontario. My full-time job is a high-school science teacher in the Greater Toronto Area.”

Aside from publishing this important metric on a daily basis for all Canadians, he also publishes a personal risk assessment by region, school-based cases, and global case counts. He has become the go-to source for Canadian Covid content not just by the people of Canada, but by several health units including Peel Public Health and Six Nations Health Services.

A few words from those who nominated Ryan:

“High school teacher by day, also biostatistician by day, and also COVID-19 resource by day… I’m not sure how he fits it all in, but he is definitely one of Canada’s date heroes!”

Click here to follow Ryan on Twitter

Dr. Andrea Love and Dr. Jessica Steier

The Professionals Cohort (Pennsylvania and Florida)

This is an abbreviated version of our interview. The full interview will be uploaded in the near future.
Dr. Andrea Love (Pennsylvania) and Dr. Jessica Steier (Florida). Photo credit: Josh Pelta-Heller

As the only nominee team of our all our nominees, both Dr. Andrea Love (Pennsylvania) and Dr. Jessica Steier (Florida) would independently be finalists in our professionals and/or specialists cohort if we split them up.

We chose to select Dr. Love and Dr. Steier as a team in our finalists cohort because of their joint commitment to public information during COVID-19 through their weekly Unbiased Science podcast.

From Dr. Jessica Steier:

“I am a public health data scientist with expertise in health policy evaluation and advanced data analytics to support population health improvement efforts. I’m the co-founder and CEO of Vital Statistics Consulting– a woman-owned public health data analytics firm engaged in projects such as the mix-methods evaluation of a statewide comprehensive primary care initiative in a midwestern state. “

Dr. Jessica Steier (Florida)
Photo credit: Josh Pelta-Heller

“Most relevant to the pandemic, I designed and led a SARS-CoV-2 serosurvey for one of the largest FQHCs in the country, for which I am also developing a COVID-19 data dashboard. I am currently leading research on disparities in COVID-19 test positivity and vaccine uptake across different sociodemographic groups and subpopulations, as well as investigating impacts on other COVID and non-COVID related outcomes such as healthcare utilization, changes in preventive and wellness visits, and long-term outcomes.

“I launched the Unbiased Science Podcast, which I co-host with my brilliant immunologist colleague, Dr. Andrea Love, which aims to translate and communicate scientific research to the general public. Lastly, I teach coursework in biostatistics and epidemiology to clinical students with the goal of emphasizing the importance of the critical appraisal of evidence and life-long learning.”

From Dr. Andrea Love:

“I am an immunologist and microbiologist previously from academic research who currently works full-time in the biotech industry on research and assay development for cancer biology, immunotherapy, vaccine research and development, and other fields. “

Dr. Andrea Love (Pennsylvania)
Photo credit: Josh Pelta-Heller

“Science literacy and education is a passion of mine, and I’ve sought out other opportunities throughout my career to serve as a resource and subject matter expert to promote access to credible science. Once the pandemic started, I felt an obligation as someone in the field to provide distilled explanations and information to the general public, especially with the real-time emergence of data that was shared (and often misinterpreted) by media outlets, government agencies, and other organizations around the world.”

“After some time doing this on my personal social media pages, I joined forces with an old college classmate, public health scientist Dr. Jess Steier, to form the Unbiased Science Podcast. We provide continuous updates on the pandemic – from the science behind the novel virus, mechanisms of infection and transmission, mitigation measures and evolving recommendations, tracking infection metrics, emergence of variants, demographics and distribution of morbidity and mortality, and of course the ongoing clinical trials and regulatory review of vaccines.”

“One of the unique aspects of our project is that we collate and provide data in multiple modalities in order to effectively tackle the spread of disinformation. We have a weekly podcast that covers an array of scientific topics, many of which are directly related to COVID-19, vaccine research and development, public health, and clinical trials. We have active presences on social media (Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn) where we create daily infographics, data summaries, and other updates related to the pandemic. “

“And finally, we are actively engaged with media outlets, and have been interviewed by Philly Magazine, NBC News, VeryWell, (as examples), in addition to penning our own op-Ed discussing the need for scientists to join forces with the media to spread credible data. It is a multi-pronged approach that is overcoming the dearth of reliable data amongst a sea of disinformation.”

A few words from those who nominated Dr. Andrea Love:

“Andrea has been on the frontlines of the fight against coronavirus doing vaccine research. She uses her personal time to educate the community on the pandemic and best ways to stay safe, and is always available to answer everyone’s questions. She is a tireless advocate for real science and believes passionately in providing the public with honest and accurate information. Though she is frequently attacked by deniers/hoaxers, she engages them in a professional manner and remains grounded in facts and science in providing counterpoints. She is an inspiration to everyone around her and deserves to be recognized for the front-liner, first-responder, and champion of science that she is.”

“Dr. Andrea Love and is devoted to objective, critical appraisal of available evidence on science and health-related topics relevant to listeners’ daily lives.”

A few words from those who nominated Dr. Jessica Steier:

“Dr. Steier has worked tirelessly since the beginning of the pandemic. She launched a podcast (Unbiased Science) and social media page aimed at scientific communication for the general public in an attempt to make science more accessible. She is a public health scientist, applied statistician, and health policy expert by training but somehow managed to translate research in a way that is understandable for all. As CEO of Vital Statistics Consulting, she has also designed and led COVID-related research looking at test positivity rates across different subpopulations with an emphasis on the underserved. She has also led a multi-day summit with other experts in the field to translate COVID science, as well as a panel with faith-based leaders of contained communities aimed at combatting distrust of science and the medical establishment. She does all of this while being a mother to two young children and juggling lots of matters in her personal life. She is a real data shero!”

“Jessica has persisted relentlessly since the onset of the pandemic to educate and inform without insult or judgement about everything COVID. She has responded instantly to rumors with scientific fact and answered questions before we even knew we had them. She has aligned and acknowledged, empathized and sympathized always with passion and compassion yet never compromising her ultimate goal to educate based on fact.”

Click here to to visit the Unbiased Science podcast website.

Click here to visit Dr. Andrea Love’s Twitter page.

Jorge Caballero

The Provocateurs Cohort (California)

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. Jorge Caballero

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.

Shortly thereafter, Coders against Covid joined FEMA’s crowdsourcing initiative, and were connected with GISCorps, a volunteer group of geospatial information specialists. The partnership built the most comprehensive database of COVID-19 testing locations in the country, providing maps and tools to find your nearest testing site, operations hours, appointment scheduling, and more.

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 lifted its curfew and stay-at-home orders in January, Dr. Caballero made sure the public was aware that the data did not support such a move.

“Of course, all that flies out the window when it comes to extended contact that’s unmasked, as one might expect from, say, outdoor dining. It’s exactly that paradox that prompted an angry tweetstorm from Stanford doctor Jorge A. Caballerowho says that “The data does NOT support lifting restrictions— this would be Newsom caving to political pressure, again,” perhaps referring to an anti-vaccination/Republican-led recall effort against the governor. Caballero warns that even now, the devastating surge in Southern California “is moving up the state: through the central valley and into the SF Bay Area.”

San Francisco, Jan. 25, 2021

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?”

Mercury News, Feb. 25, 2021

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.”

Click here to follow Dr. Jorge Caballero on Twitter.

Click here to visit the Coders Against Covid Twitter page, or click here to see the Coders Against Covid website.

Sara Anne Willette

The Provocateurs Cohort (Iowa)

Only a handful of states made data access and transparency during the early days of COVID-19 as difficult as Iowa.

Sara Anne Willette (Iowa)

Even now, Iowa remains one of the few states that does not provide data about COVID-19 cases in schools.

But Sara Anne Willette does.

Sara invested all her efforts toward building the Iowa COVID-19 Tracker site early in the pandemic, and continues to provide the public with all of the data the state makes available in an easily-consumable, accessible and transparent way.

For Sara, running the site and keeping Iowans informed is personal; of the first three cases announced in the state, Sara personally knew two of them.

“I track Iowa’s COVID-19 data for two reasons,” she said. “First, the daily data presented by the State of Iowa contains numerous errors and lacks accessibility. The majority of the data must be hand-scraped, a task to which most working Iowans are unable to devote hours per day. Second, as a disabled American with Common Variable Immune Deficiency, I am in a unique position to assist as many Iowans as possible with risk assessment regarding infectious pathogens in their communities and schools.”

Sara made enemies within her state government and her own political party by pressing for more COVID-19 data access and transparency.

The Iowa Governor, Kim Reynolds, has faced public outrage over the handling of COVID-19 and school reopening. Reynolds also falsely claimed at one point that there was science “on both sides” of mask safety, and her political proximity to Donald Trump often muddied public health messaging during the pandemic in her state.

Reynolds allegedly called Sara an “excel warrior” during a press conference last May, disparaging her and others for tracking and reporting cases in the state.

Now, Iowans face a “hunger-games” type vaccine rollout, with seniors fighting for survival in a poorly managed, publicly shamed vaccine distribution plan.

Sara continues to update her data daily, with help from several of her graduate students at Iowa State University who she hired to assist with the project.

A few words from those who nominated Sara:

“Sara has been tracking data since last March, and has been especially important given that the data published by our state has been incorrect, manipulated, and misleading. The view we have on our State’s official website is not current, so does not reflect current conditions. Sara provides data updates by county twice a day, and also data for school districts and colleges and universities in the state. Her transparency is unparalleled.”

“Sara has been accessible and has been rooting out inconsistencies this whole time. She reports honestly to Iowa in real time. She is a hero. She has been silenced and has been relentless with our science denying Governor.”

“Sara began by tracking the data released by the Iowa Dept of Public Health and presenting it in more accessible ways on her own web site. She has contacted the state DPH to try to get them to compute test positivity rates correctly (they still won’t). She independently tracks data on infections and quarantines among school students and staff, which the state does not do in a meaningful way.”

Click here to follow Sara on Twitter.

Click here to see Sara’s website.