Russell Schwartz, an elementary school principal, and Katherine Quirk, a pediatric hematology/oncology nurse, started looking for ways to help Florida seniors navigate the state’s difficult vaccine rollout online in late December 2020.
On new year’s day, they decided to launch a Facebook group to help provide information and get people appointments
The purpose of the group is to share timely, verified COVID-19 vaccination information in a politically-free environment. This information ranges from vaccination availability, detailed information on securing an appointment, to day of vaccination experience.
The group is served by volunteers who serve by moderating the group, researching vaccination locations, procedures, and opportunities, contacting seniors and individuals that need assistance with the process, and securing vaccination appointments.
While the group is focused on providing information for individuals to utilize to book appointments independently, we empathize that many residents in our community lack the technology, the technical skills, or the ability to use this information to secure their own appointment.
“Our volunteers serve by bridging the technology gap in these cases, and assist in securing appointments,” Russell Schwartz said. “As availability and qualifying groups continue to expand and evolve, South Florida COVID-19 Vaccination Info will continue to serve as a resource through all stages of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.”
“Katherine and I have helped launch 14 other similar groups throughout the country and have connected, and collaborated, with another 11 groups. The total amount in all of the groups is nearing 300,000,” said Russell.
A few words from those who nominated Russell and Katherine:
“Katherine Quirk and Russell Schwartz started a Facebook Group at the beginning of this year to assist South Florida seniors who are not technically savvy in navigating the very difficult system of getting the Covid-19 vaccine in south Florida. In one month’s time this group has grown to over 21,000 members and volunteers who have been able to navigate a confusing and constantly changing system in Florida and have also helped out of state family to obtain vaccines for their in-state elder family members. They do this strictly as volunteers with a “Pay It Forward” philosophy in addition to their day jobs. Katherine is pediatric oncology nurse and Russell is an elementary school principle. They ask for nothing for themselves while devoting countless hours to help others with the rigors of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. They are very worthy of this award.”
“I live in a rural community, with mostly conservative voices at the table. While our public health and government officials carried out the duties of their elected positions, followed the guidance as issued by the governor, and heard public opinion, the majority were adamantly opposed to mask mandates, closures, and abiding by social distancing recommendations, particularly at the onset on the pandemic. There were even protests on the day of the first vote on a mask mandate in public places. The few of those who supported swifter and stricter community action were met with jeers and public ridicule.”
“Even with this very vocal opposition, a small group of us forged ahead. Digging through the research, creating public and private channels of communication, building relationships with area public health workers and medical providers, and sharing heavily moderated (for bias and accuracy) content on social media, including statistics we garnered from public sources and our own efforts at data collection and analysis.”
“Since this undertaking our small community group has grown. Providers and health officials share testing and vaccine info to our group Facebook page, people are able to engage in dialogue without bias or motive, and we are able to share infection and mortality data, resources, and information as we become aware of it through our piecing together of information from the few available channels. While we have faced opposition coupled with alarming Covid rates, we have developed a fairly moderated, inclusive and reliable resource for our small community.”
“I say all of this to say, that any effort moving forward to harness control of the virus and repair damaged public trust, government officials would be remiss to not consider the impact these grass roots level community coalitions could play in addressing this crisis.”
A few words from those who nominated Sara:
“Over the last year, Sara has worked tirelessly to keep her community informed about the on-going coronavirus pandemic. Since July of 2020, she has voluntarily co-administered a Facebook group to share resources and updates with citizens in her rural county, with a particular emphasis on communicating factual, evidence-based information to help her neighbors make informed decisions during this crisis. Not without adversity, she has fairly and transparently enforced the rules of the group to protect her community from the rampant misinformation that has abounded in other venues of discourse. When her city council took up a local face-covering mandate, Sara called into the public meeting to advocate on behalf of the measure and encourage our local leaders to look to the scientific evidence that supported it. She has done all of this while balancing the duties of her job and her responsibilities as a mother, and she truly deserves to be recognized for her heroic work in her community.”
*Acronym definitions to know: GIS (Geographic Information Science), ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute), WGIS (Women in GIS)
Carley Fitzgerald is a geographer and GIS expert from Highlands County, Florida, who’s dedicated, innovative and bold leadership in Florida changed how experts approached issues of geospatial epidemiology across the country.
In March 2020, Carley began working in the COVID-19 Information & Planning Section of the Highlands County Emergency Operations Center. A study released by ESRI around that time warned that Highlands was one of the most vulnerable in the nation, so Carley quickly got to work.
She worked on everything from sourcing, managing and analyzing data, to epidemiological modeling, to application development and public outreach.
“It is my hope that by providing the data, analysis, applications, and more to the County we were able to better prepare and respond to COVID-19 in our County despite our higher-than-average vulnerability to the virus,” said Carley.”
She built an application for residents to sign up for a waitlist when the state failed to provide the resources to do so, supporting her community’s access to information about vaccine distribution.
“As a geographer, I am familiar with sourcing, managing, and analyzing data,” said Carley. “I was able to quickly get to work learning GIS epidemiology models and providing key metrics regarding the status of COVID-19 in our County and State to Emergency Managers and Administration.”
Her role in managing the crisis for her community extended to advocating for data access across the country. A champion for women’s equality in advanced sciences, she was also elected to serve on the the board of Women in GIS (WGIS), an international non-profit and professional organization.
“The aim of WIGIS is to serve as a safe place for women from all geospatial fields to work towards overcoming things like: job discrimination, lower pay, professional isolation, and other common barriers women might face,” said Carley.
She currently serves as the lead for the professional development committee for WGIS, as well.
“It was especially important for me to join the organization, and now volunteer my time with WIGIS because GIS, as with pretty much most other sciences and technology fields, are very male dominated” said Carley. “Most GIS Departments are relatively small and that leaves many women in a unique position where they are the only woman in the department.”
“I worked with a colleague to develop a number of virtual events that help women in the GIS field advance their careers. We also developed a webinar series called Women in GIS Careers. We know that in a field that is male dominated representation matters and we are using the platform of our webinars to highlight successful women in GIS and their accomplishments in their field while they share how they got to their current role. We commonly speak about issues like imposter syndrome, where sometimes you just feel like you don’t belong in the role you have. Hearing these successful women speak about overcoming similar hurdles is reassuring and helps us to all know we are capable and not alone in our struggles.”
Examples of Carley’s work are submitted below.
An “At-A-Glance” Dashboard for Emergency Managers This dashboard was created as a quick way to determine the condition in regional hospitals, our own bed availability, currently active cases and more.
Tracked Vaccine Rollout and Distribution Patterns One of the priorities that I consider especially important for vaccine rollout are areas with high concentrations of currently active COVID-19 cases per capita. So I compare the per capita estimated current active cases for all the counties in Florida to their % of the population fully vaccinated. After highlighting the top 5 counties and Highlands in each graph you can see that they are negatively corelated. In fact, 6 of the 7 lowest fully vaccinated counties in Florida are all located in the Heartland region of Florida. Highlands County on this week was also high in concentrations of current active cases. This information is useful for advocating for increased vaccine allotment.
Weekly Trend Graphs for the County and State These graphics were great at illustrating the progression of COVID-19 in our county and were shared at County Commissioner meetings with the public.
Tracked Hospital Bed Availability Over Time In June I started tracking hospital bed and ICU bed availability in our county and in the state to provide a better perspective on the condition of the hospitals.
Calculated Senior Case Death and Case Hospitalization Rates for Our County and State. Our county has consistently had a case hospitalization and case death rate that was higher than the rates of the state. This was important for future projections of COVID-19 conditions in our County. After determining an accurate case death and case hospitalization rate, I applied the CDC guidance for average time a new case takes to end up in the hospital and potentially succumb to the virus. This allowed me to project out new hospitalizations, and new deaths based on current case load.
One of the first things we knew about the virus was that it was more deadly to the older generations. I use state data to calculate how deadly by finding the case death rates based on smaller age brackets. Awareness of this metric puts just how perilous outbreaks can be in senior communities like ours.
Vaccination I also assisted with the vaccination process by creating an online application that members of the public could register for a vaccine waitlist. In the one month the website was live before the state provided a solution to the public, is accumulated over 100,000 page views and 0ver 30,000 registrations. Not too shabby for a county that has a population of about 105,000.
The Professionals Cohort (Pennsylvania and Florida)
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. “
“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. “
“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.”
“I have a demonstrated record of collaborative research, scholarly publication, teaching and advising, and participation in public health organizations and professional associations” Jason writes on his website.
Jason built a reputation in Florida as an honest, transparent and vigilant reporter of data and trends through his website and Twitter feed. Jason makes all of his data available to the public for free, and has invested countless hours in keeping Florida honest, never deterred by anti-mask, anti-vaccines and pro-government harassment. His commitment to data access, transparency and data visualization may be unmatched in the state of Florida.
A few words from those who nominated Jason:
“Dr. Salemi is consistent, transparent, dependable, creative, and trustworthy.”
“Non partisan data. Responsive to requests. The best in the state. Doing it for nothing but to inform.”
“With all the misinformation out there and cover-ups in our state and by our governor, Florida is lucky to have so many data heroes like Jason and Rebekah out there. They give us the truth when the government won’t!”