Alanna Bortlin

The Provocateurs Cohort (Pennsylvania)

Alanna Bortolin (Pennsylvania)

I started tracking data very early on, watching to see how far behind Italy that New York was tracking. As it spread to Pennsylvania I started to track that as well, and ultimately added York County to understand the pandemic picture at the micro level locally.

York County is not near any major metropolitan area, and therefore following the trends out of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, or Baltimore were interesting but not particularly helpful. I hoped major data sources would track county-level details, but it came slowly and not in as much detail as I wanted.

Our local and regional media provide raw daily case and death numbers without much additional context, if any, and our county government provides only such woefully inadequate and misleading data that it is more dangerous than helpful. Though I started tracking for my own understanding, as I shared on social media I learned that there was some demand for this information.

Soon enough it was being hung daily in the COVID Command Center of our largest hospital. It was then that I recognized the value of sharing the information publicly each day for the broader community using the key metrics for understanding: cases, deaths, positivity rate, and hospitalizations. The work has naturally evolved as more information became available, adding things such as the transmission levels that schools were to use to make instructional decisions and including a summary of 3-4 key news updates of the day as new information was coming at an alarming rate.

As the daily report can become mundane, I’ve tried to create additional visualizations to offer better context to the situation. Weekly I show ZIP code cases per capita, as well as compare York County to surrounding counties.

As cases and deaths cross milestones, I show those in a different manner that visualizes how quickly (and fortunately now, more slowly) new cases and deaths were growing. I created hospital specific data, adding ICU and ventilator information to the basic hospitalization data when the situation was becoming more critical by the day, and I’ve shown testing data to demonstrate the relationship between testing and positivity rates.

Now I’m beginning to share vaccination data as well as aggregate information on how individuals can find available appointments.

In short, my goal has always been to help my neighbors understand our pandemic situation at the community level. Seeing numbers on the news each night doesn’t mean much, but being able to provide consistent context to these numbers creates understanding on a greater level. It is simply impossible to make informed decisions without the proper information, and I hope that through my work I have given that opportunity to my community. “

A few words from those who nominated Alanna:

“Alanna has fought hard to provide solid data and statistics for her local community in York PA. She not only researches and crunches the number she actively engages with our community and advocates for our health care workers who are struggling during this pandemic. As an ICU nurse working on a covid19 unit I appreciate her fact driven approach and her fighting myths on social media. I don’t have the energy to continue the fight online after the hard shifts I face but I know Alanna will keep fighting for me. She’s my hero.”

Click here to follow Alanna on Twitter
Click here to visit Alanna’s Facebook page

Jill Henning

The Specialists Cohort (Pennsylvania)

Jill Henning (Pennsylvania)

Jill Henning is an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.  

Early in the pandemic she and her students put together a coronavirus toolkit for businesses, families, and schools that was freely available here.

In March 2020, Editor Chip Minemyer recruited her along with a local physician to answer questions concerning COVID-19.  She made science relatable and engaging answering hundreds of questions. 

The COVID-19: Your Questions feature was picked up by other CNHI newspapers across the country. 

In December 2020, Cambria reached a grave milestone: they were first in the nation for COVID-19 cases and deaths per capita.  That December, Ashlee Kiel reached out to Jill to help with the community effort to educate she was beginning. 

From that meeting, In This Together Cambria was born. This organization along with The Tribune Democrat and UPJ, have been educating residents of Cambria county through questions, webinar series, video productions, and educational materials.  

Her entire goal through this pandemic was to make science relatable and easily understood.  She continues to work towards that goal daily.  

A few words from those who nominated Dr. Henning:

“Dr. Henning has made it her mission since the pandemic began to bring knowledge, facts, and reason to the people of Cambria County. Cambria County is a rural area that did not take much of the pandemic seriously. Dr. Henning was able to reach thousands across the county (and country) with the website (linked below) that she helped build. It is easy to follow and is very resourceful. She has also done countless interviews and webinars answering questions for the people of her community. She has been a leader in Cambria County over the past year, and even through some adversity she has faced, she continues to fight the good fight. She is a true hero to the people of this community, and I can guarantee her drive to spread her invaluable information has saved countless lives throughout the course of this pandemic.”

“We are so lucky to have a resource like Dr. Jill Henning from UPJ in town. Last week she shared questions that adults had been asking and this week she tackled the kids. Through the wonders of Zoom, she agreed to answer questions kids have about the Coronavirus by having her son and niece share their questions. She touched on how the virus spreads, if it “changes”, if take out meals safe, how to properly don and doff a mask and more. She uses clear and amazing visuals to explain the concepts and has a fun hand washing exercise that you can do with the kids. I hope you take the time to watch the whole video and invite your family to watch with you. She’s so upbeat and reassuring! “

Click here to follow Jill on Twitter
Click here to visit the “In this together Cambria” website

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.