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

Jen Jennings

The Specialists Cohort (New Jersey)

Jen Jennings (New Jersey)

“With a team of three fabulous research assistants – Jenna Shaw, Katie Eiler, and Paul Darnell – we’ve been pulling together and analyzing school-level data on cases in NYC, and considering rates in all sectors – traditional public, private, and charter. State and city agencies have made data difficult to access and analyze, and we hope to do our part to make data on school-level rates of infection more transparent.”

A few words from those who nominated Jen:

“In the push to reopen schools in NY state and NYC this year, Jen’s data collection on the increase in school cases and in NYC children in general is helping in the fight to get and adjust safety protocols in our schools.”

Click here to follow Jen on Twitter

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.”

Sara Shaw Green

The Provocateurs Cohort (Florida)

Sara Green (Florida)

In her own words:

“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.”

Click here to

Ensheng Dong

The Newcomers Cohort (Maryland)

The Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard did more to educate Americans about global health and geography than any single resource in modern history.

Ensheng Dong (Maryland)

No doubt – the student behind it changed the world.

Early in the pandemic, references to the “team” behind the project misguidedly believed an office of experts originated the project, as the workload and unique skills needed to take on such a task seemed impossible for one person, much less one student.

Unknown to most of the world was that Ensheng started the project on his own, with help from his academic advisor, Lauren Gardner.

A few words from those who nominated Ensheng:

“Ensheng Dong is the brain behind the Johns Hopkins University dashboard that put the virus in the global and geographical spotlight. He was a grad student and wanted to provide data about the virus because his family lived in Taiyuan. Without this work, who knows if we would have ever seen the virus the way we do now.””The best epidemiology model to track the COVID epidemic with the statistical tests.”

Click here to visit the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 site.

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

Jason Salemi

The Specialists Cohort (Florida)

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:

Jason Salemi (Florida)

Dr. Jason Salemi is an Associate Professor with joint appointments in the at the University of South Florida College of Public Health and the Morsani College of Medicine. He also maintains adjunct faculty status at his former institution, Baylor College of Medicine.

“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.

“I have amassed a substantial and versatile proficiency in database development, data linkage, management, and analysis, program and systems evaluation, community engagement, and information dissemination. I am a passionate public health professional committed to solving problems and creating conditions that enable people to lead healthy, productive lives.”

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.

Graph depicting the lag in COVID-19 death reporting in Florida on Jason’s COVID-19 tracking site.

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!”

Click here to follow Jason on Twitter

Click here to visit Jason’s data site.

Click here to visit Jason’s personal site.

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.