I am a pulmonary and critical care physician at Indiana University. I started a Facebook page outlining the data for the state of Indiana as the pandemic was beginning by pulling data from daily press releases and have been sharing daily updates (now 3 times per week) with interpreting commentary.
It has grown considerably and has become a community of support and helpfulness that has been a beacon of light for me as well as many of the readers.
I try to use the data to outline where we are; and use stories, humility, and a bit of humor to illustrate the importance of participating in public health interventions that have proven difficult for many.
I have been careful to avoid politicizing the science, and I think this has helped people to sort through what is going on here in Indiana.
A few words from those who nominated Dr. Bosslet:
“Dr. Bosslet has worked with statistician Micah Pollock to keep the state of Indiana well informed. Outside of his busy work schedule and family life, he has managed this page since the beginning of the pandemic. He utilizes numbers and provides meaningful analyses without the typical media hype, which has helped community members stay calm during these challenging times. His consistent analyses regarding COVID, mutations, and vaccines has been invaluable.”
“Dr. Bosslet began posting COVID data in March 2020 every day. Although he is a physician, he used easy to understand language when providing the positivity COVID data and the data’s impact on our community. Further, the shared hospitalizations and swaths in the county and state. Finally, his data knowledge helped support a local school district to establish school opening metrics before any county or state guidance had been given. As the pandemic progresses he continues to share the data and how use it to help make decisions for activities like going out to eat or traveling. He has since added Facebook live sessions that have over 1000 people watching each time. For many of us, he was the calm during the storm. His ability to talk data in a way that everyone understands made a huge impact on our community locally and state-wide.”
“Dr. Bosslet’s daily updates have been educational and encouraging, truly a light during dark times.”
Micah Pollak still remembers his first tweet about COVID-19 data in Indiana from March 22.
Indiana launched a poorly-formatted red-dot map, with one red dot for every county that had reported cases with no other information, as the only initial public resource for the public.
“I was looking back at some of my earliest Tweets on Covid and one was something like ‘I couldn’t find the graph I wanted so I made it myself,’ and I think that captures why a lot of us got into this in the first place,” Micah said.
What the state was putting out wasn’t enough.
Micah found the data presentation inadequate, sometimes misleading, and not answering urgent, basic questions. So he started exploring data on his own and then shared his analysis on Twitter, not expecting it to pick up the popularity or following he now has.
Micah is an associate professor of economics and the Director of the Center for Economic Education & Research (CEER) at Indiana University Northwest. So epidemiology was outside of his comfort zone, he said. What he did feel comfortable doing, though, was advanced statistics and data communication about what was happening.
“With so much happening outside our control during this global pandemic, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless,” Micah said. “By analyzing and reporting on COVID-19 data, with a special focus on my state and local region, I can empower people through a better understanding of what is happening in the world around them to regain their confidence and make informed decisions about their daily life.”
He’s passionate about education and serving his community, and sees his time during COVID-19 as an effort in cutting through the chaos and conspiracies to bring valuable data and analysis to the forefront.
He’d be remiss not to mention his frequent partner-in-data, Gabriel Bosslet, another one of our nominees in our Specialists group.
A few words from those who nominated Micah:
“Takes what is sometimes dry, confusing, gobblygook information and makes it interesting and easy to understand, and includes some much needed levity during these trying times.”
“The state of Indiana has not provided reliable information and Micah put everything in perspective as a parent, family member, and professional. “
Eileen White resigned from her position as the sole epidemiologist in the newly-formed Fishers, Indiana health department after the mayor began interfering with how data was being represented to the public.
“It became clear that no matter what I did to help make data more transparent for my community, I simply could not honestly communicate about the data when working in local public health in Indiana, amidst a huge amount of political pressure.”
“It went very public very quickly and was incredibly uncomfortable,” Eileen said.
Eileen became a reluctant, though much-needed voice for reason and transparency, challenging the misleading information being put out by her local officials, especially when that misleading data related to schools and school safety during COVID-19.
“We developed community metrics to help guide our community health around risk and school closings and openings,” she explained. “The metrics said we were in one stage, and the mayor decided that we were in another and told the schools to open fully when that’s not what the metrics indicated.”
So she left a health department she had uprooted her life to assist.
She created “Public Health Is Your Job, Too” as both a website and Facebook resource for those looking to better understand COVID-19 in her state, and to advocate for science communication and public health.
She received threats. Her neighbors shunned her. Several times, she’d go outside and find her car doors left opened or ajar.
In the end, she had to move.
Eileen was by no means a public figure before she left the health department – she averaged about one tweet a month before she quit in protest of the local government’s political interference in science and medicine. After she resigned, she started a Facebook page to share public health data with the public.
Eileen wanted to adhere to the guidelines on reopening schools, but the mayor didn’t. She wanted communication about the risk of schools to be clear, but the mayor didn’t. And when push came to shove, her own health department wouldn’t back her up against the political interests trying to minimize the impact their policy decisions would cause.
“There are many of us that have felt powerless, silenced. The data may indicate one thing. The policy decisions that are made at the top by the politicians and even some of the directors do not follow data,” Eileen remembers.
“We have to be careful to say what we know and don’t know and why. What we know about kids is still under investigation, everything so far indicates they spread at least as much as adults,” she wrote.
Indeed, Mayor Scott Fadness made unilateral changes to the policies regarding reopening school, reminding the health department during one public meeting that it wasn’t up to the health department when and how schools opened.
“I did my best to hold the local and state health departments accountable for decision making and poor data interpretation , and held our state accountable for the absolute gutting of public health funding and investment in Indiana,” she said.”
Still somewhat shaken from the near-constant assault of her work and her personal life, led by anti-maskers, anti-lockdowners and “open schools NOW” pushers, Eileen looks forward to what’s next for her, even if it isn’t where she expected life to take her.
“It’s been a very long year, but I take heart that my work in data and public health education have informed Fishers, Indianapolis and surrounding areas on how to look at the information they are being given, how to ask questions, and how to challenge a political narrative that is very clearly without real, solid, vetted data behind it.”
Eileen graciously requested not to be considered a finalist, noting on her Facebook page: “I have been a strong advocate for science, data and my community, but I have gone nowhere near the levels of work of my co-nominees. These amazing folks are doing incredible work, and I hope that their careers are improved with this honor and well-deserved attention.”
Eileen’s commitment to science education under immense pressure and even threats exemplifies everything this awards program is about. Still somewhat uncomfortable with her new-founded celebrity and trying to work her way through the emotional toll of her experiences, Eileen struggles to be brave. Yet, those who do not struggle to be brave are not nearly as heroic as those who must fight each day to find it within themselves to go on.
Even though Eileen may not (yet) be a national figure like some of other nominees, she shares the stage with equal credibility, transparency, advocacy, and grit as everyone else.
Our program was designed not to give praise to those who already have the lectern, but to recognize those whose work within their communities, states or regions across the US and Canada profoundly changed conversations, challenged misinformation, and who paid a price in doing so.