I am a PhD Biomedical Engineer, and Med School Professor member at the Medical College of Georgia. Time series analysis and probability and statistics are a substantial part of my training, as has been computer programming, and I am a fan of the statistical epidemiological portions of infectious disease.
I am not an infectious disease researcher. In the pandemic, I first used data science so I could see what was happening in my locale, and in other regions. I then used it to help inform others. Early on in 2020, there were really no places to go for info, for example in April 2020 no one could tell you when cases would peak, or how bad it might be.
The governors of various states made truly absurd statements about their expectations that data science did not support. I realized that by posting daily plots on Facebook and Twitter, I could capture and audience. I mostly feed them daily info and data science, and retweet the most valuable info from professional infectious disease researchers.
As a medical researcher, they are my colleagues, and I seek to support and amplify their important voices in this critical time (and not to compete with them). As the pandemic progressed, info about trends and relative comparisons between regions became fairly commonplace, but there was, and is, a need for those seeking that information to also be pointed in the direction of the near future, as indicated by the professionals in infectious disease. I hope that my efforts have been helpful to my followers.
A few words from those who nominated Dr. David Blake:
“Easy to read charts that’s show spread and severity for all states and parts of Canada. I haven’t seen these data points shown in this way by anyone else and they give me the best visual representation of what’s happening on the ground and the trajectory. He posts first thing in the morning, so it’s always what I look for when checking twitter each day. ”
“Dave has provided graphs and data to the people that follow him on Facebook. It was easy to understand and useful after all the other information sources were messed up by the government.”
We are working to complete our profiles for the more than 500 nominees submitted during the month of February. If you’d like to add to this profile, please email us at: Contact@Data-Usa.org
Mary Landers tackled some of the toughest issues to cover as a journalist during COVID-19 – issues of inequality that led to and exacerbated how minority communities were impacted, inequity in vaccine distribution, and racial and ethnic experiences and vulnerabilities.
“The pandemic has been data-driven news from the beginning,” Mary said. “Which states have cases, how many, what percent of the population is that, how many people have died. I’ve tried to make sense of this data at a local level when I can for our Savannah Morning News readers so that they can take appropriate actions to protect themselves. Data drives how we cover the pandemic.”
“For example, when we reached 200 COVID deaths in our county I described the demographics of those who died and profiled ten of those people,” Mary said. “Data also drives what we cover. I’ve kept an eye on issues like the settings hardest hit by COVID — prisons and nursing homes — and written local stories about outbreaks in these places.”
One of the most challenging issues Mary covered during COVID-19 related to vaccine hesitancy among Black communities in Savannah, and the dark history behind those attitudes.
A few words from those who nominated Mary:
“I believe Mary Landers is a data hero due to her diligent work towards providing the community with accurate COVID numbers. And she doesn’t stop there, she has also provided data on how Covid has disproportionately impacted black people and POC in the Savannah area. She also created data to see which zip codes were receiving the most Covid vaccines and how economically wealthier areas were receiving more shipments.”
“For the last year she has dedicated her life to providing people with Covid numbers, information, data and even helped sign people up for the vaccine herself.”
Dr. Theresa Chapple has dedicated the last 13 months to combating misinformation about COVID-19, building her science communication skills to teach the public about Covid-19 prevention approaches, and advocating for data-driven public policy to address the pandemic.
Since June, she’s worked with 27 school districts across the country to aid in Covid-19 data and research interpretation, setting data related metrics for reopening and closings, and identifying and training on risk mitigation approaches.
She has also utilized platforms such as social media and traditional media to share public health prevention messages and translate research into language understandable by the masses.
She breaks the data down, offers analysis and context, and is one of the most responsive experts for COVID-19 information on Twitter.
“There’s a reason Dr. Chapple put this [COVID-19 outbreaks in schools and childcare settings] exhaustingly long list together, and why it’s still growing,” Karen Johnson wrote in Yahoo! News last August. “She wants us to realize and truly understand that this is what happens when people gather in groups. When adults gather in groups. When teens gather in groups. And when children gather in groups. Camps, daycare centers, and how it will be schools.”
A few words from those who nominated Dr. Chapple:
“Dr. Chapple may be the most courageous woman I’ve encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic. She unabashedly challenges misinformation in a confident and assertive way that doesn’t come off as talking down to people.”
“When a lot of junk science about schools came out from people with no subject-matter expertise, Dr. Chapple confronted them with the realities of what the real science and data showed, and by doing so likely saved many lives.”
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic Dr. Amber Schmidtke recognized there was a large gap between the way that scientists communicate and how non-scientists receive information.
So she made it her mission to reach out to other experts, journalists and the public to work on clear and effective communication about COVID-19.
And she did so in a state that has been among the least transparent and accessible with Coronavirus data in the country — Georgia.
“She has shared and broken down the real facts and meaning behind the Covid numbers for us Georgians when we could not trust our health department to report the data honestly,” wrote one person who nominated Dr. Schmidtke for our program.
Friendly, patient and comforting, she has become one of the most trusted voices in Georgia for analyzing and understanding the COVID-19 pandemic.
A self-described “data nerd,” Dr. Schmidtke worked at Mercer University as a professor in the School of Medicine when the pandemic started.
Dr. Schmidtke earned a Ph.D. in medical microbiology and immunology from Creighton University in Nebraska, and completed her postdoctoral research fellowship in the CDC’s Pertussis and Diphtheria Laboratory, later becoming a microbiologist for the Atlanta-based health protection agency.
She has combined her roles as a public health specialist and college educator to provide meaningful analysis and explanation of disease trends to the public through a popular newsletter and podcast.
As a result of those communication efforts she was invited to serve as a member of the Georgia COVID-19 Data State Task Force, advising government agencies on how to package their complex data to meet the needs of the public.
Dr. Schmidtke frequently informs the public on the issue of school safety during COVID-19, wading into an obscenely politicized debate, using the science and data to advocate for ensuring CDC protocols are closely followed and that teachers are able to get vaccinated.
Dr. Schmidtke warned the public in February when a national cheerleading competition in Atlanta brought more than 40,000 people to the event. She noted the timing of the event, and the risk attendees might bring home or spread the B.1.1.7 variant, of which Georgia ranks fifth in the country for confirmed cases.
An article from the Mercer University newsletter detailed how Dr. Schmidtke joined the state task force to help with presenting data to the public.
“She works most closely with the Georgia Geospatial Information Office, which maps data, and has helped the health department refine how the information is presented on its website,” the article stated.
When data from Georgia would go missing or was suspicious, Dr. Schmidtke called them out, worked to find answers, and led her state (and the country) by example with her steadfast, data-driven approach.
Though with her calming and disarming demeaner, she tries to always end on a positive note, even if the risk is grave.
“I understand and acknowledge that anxiety that people are feeling. The good news is the measures we’ve been recommending this whole time will help us to limit transmission of these new variants and that’s really what we should be focused on right now,” said Dr. Schmidtke in an interview last month.
Dr. Schmidtke’s continued energy and enthusiasm for reporting data and being an accessible, reliable, trustworthy source for Georgia and beyond make her a true data hero.
A few comments from those who nominated Dr. Schmidtke:
“Dr. Schmidtke not only kept up with very hard to acquire data to keep Georgians informed when the state failed to do so, she also put it in a very accessible format. She has been informative about the state’s true numbers (GA never reported rapid test results) and realistic in her assessments of hospital capacities. Her emails have been calming because they are honest and although they contain a lot of data they are so clear they are never overwhelming. I’m grateful for her hard work, her empathy, and her patience.”
“As Georgia DOH struggled with their own reporting, Amber filled in the blanks with her multiple-times-a-week analysis and explanations. She made the data come to life and wasn’t afraid to give her opinion on what it meant. Her explanations are so clear. She also then replies to comments and answers questions. She moved to Kansas and picked up reporting there but continued with GA!”