Eileen White

The Provocateurs Cohort (Indiana)

NPR interview with Eileen White and Caroline Buckee, from Dec. 13, 2020

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.

Eileen White (Indiana)

“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.

Eileen wanted to adhere to the Harvard Key Metrics for Covid Suppression that had just been released for community risk mitigation.

“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.”

We disagree.

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.

Click here to follow Eileen on Twitter.
Click here to see Eileen’s Facebook page.
Click here to see Eileen’s website.

Olivier Drouin

The Professionals Cohort (Quebec, Canada)

Click above to listen to our interview with Olivier Drouin!
Olivier Drouin (Canada – Quebec)

Olivier Drouin ventured into the treacherous waters of reporting cases in COVID-19 schools when Quebec dodged the responsibility last August.

Despite the lack of transparency in many schools, Olivier worked with teachers unions, parents, and schools to produce his data analysis on COVID-19 in schools.

Infectiously kind, gracious, and humble, Olivier took on the task of reporting school cases in Quebec, much in the same way The Covid Monitor did in the United States.

Drouin appeared on “The Most Fascinating Montrealer” podcast and was featured in major news outlets for his work.

A recent research paper used Olivier’s data from Covid Ecoles to examine school cases trends in Montreal, Canada, bolstering his dutiful work and giving him substantial academic cred.

“I am a team of one – single parent of two teenage daughters and VP technology for a large company in Montreal,” Olivier said. “This is volunteer work and I have spent at least 1000 hours since August 26th, 2020.”

Olivier Drouin’s website greets visitors with a pointed note:

The mission of this citizen initiative for transparency of data on schools affected by COVID is to make information available, accessible and intelligible in real time to school stakeholders (parents, teachers, staff members).

The site uses the creativity, intelligence and know-how of the community to create content, develop ideas, solve a problem or carry out an innovative project, all at a lower cost. This approach is commonly known as crowdsourcing.

The project is based on the strength of collective intelligence using crowdsourcing. The site publishes the number of schools affected by at least one positive case of COVID since August 26th.

The information comes from the public and is validated with a copy of the letter issued by public health or the school administration. This list is an evolving and non-exhaustive list. It is updated several times a day. You can submit positive COVID cases in your schools, whether you are a parent, teacher, service center employee or citizen.

https://www.covidecolesquebec.org/
Olivier’s website, CovidEcolesQuebec.org.

Drouin, who lives on Nuns’ Island, started tweeting about the pandemic in the summer, concerned about the government’s back-to-school plan. In September, Drouin founded a volunteer website, CovidEcolesQuebec.org, posting cases of COVID-19 in schools across the province, based on letters by principals sent to him from parents. The website quickly became one of the most visited in the province.

Drouin has also advocated for better ventilation in schools, including the installation of portable air purifiers in classrooms.

“Twitter has a real-time aspect to it, contrary to other social media,” Drouin explained.

Cases by grade-level groups on Olivier’s website, CovidEcolesQuebec.org

“It is easy to connect quickly on content with experts (from) around the world on a given topic. When it came time to launch CovidEcolesQuebec.org, it was simply an extension of my community involvement and I felt it was important to create a separate account to promote the site and create a community of like-minded followers that would amplify the message and help make this crowdsourcing website a success.”

All of the data Olivier collects is public and easily accessible. Click here to download the raw data.

A few words from those who nominated Olivier:

“One parent, as a volunteer work, has been tracking all Quebec Covid cases in school since August 26th, at a time when the government was refusing to disclose the data. Using crowdsourcing method, he publishes official letters sent by school and public health to parents that confirm a case and compiles it in real time on a geospatial map. He manages also a twitter account and Facebook page. he was mentioned by elected officials at the national assembly of Quebec, covered in other 200 news media articles and name Most fascinating Montreal of 2020 by CJAD radio.”

Click here to visit Olivier’s website. Click here to access his raw data and dashboard.

Click here to follow Olivier on Twitter at his personal or Covid Ecoles handle.

Eilzabeth Shulok

The Provocateurs Cohort (California)

Eizabeth Shulok started tracking COVID-19 in California in May 2020.

Elizabeth Shulok (California)

Using her expertise as a data scientist, she built her own website to track, analyze and visualize data in San Diego County.

“The data tells the story; I just paint the picture,” said Shulok.

Elizabeth works with the press to produce accurate data visualizations, including a recent project to map the CDC schools guidance by zip code in her state.

Elizabeth wrestled with the pushback she received when she started reporting on cases in K-12 schools, finding that many in San Diego county (and online) would harass, threaten and berate experts who cautioned about what was known and what was speculation about kids, teachers and school staff.

“The violence coming from some of the pandemic deniers has made me hesitant to post openly about COVID-19,” Elizabeth said.

Despite the risk, Elizabeth pressed on, continued to track and report cases (including cases in schools), and challenged early misconceptions and lack of transparency in her area.

“I wasn’t convinced we knew enough about the role children play in the pandemic so I decided to see what the data shows,” said Shulok. “The county provides data on COVID-19, but doesn’t display it in a way to see how transmission varies by age group over time. So I created my own charts to try to get a better picture of what is happening with kids in San Diego County and ended up expanding from there.”

Elizabeth feared for her own safety at times, even going so far as to remove her name from her projects. But seeing activists using her data confront the anti-science crowd online and in the news encouraged her.

“It has shifted my perspective. And seeing them go on air, doing interviews to counter the Reopen Now group’s narrative, and getting bashed online, puts my work into perspective. What I’m doing is fairly neutral and less controversial,” she said.

Elizabeth provides all of the data free to the public with complete transparency of where it comes from, which is almost entirely primary sources.

A few comments from those who nominated Elizabeth:

“Her data analysis has provided insights and views that have illuminated areas of concern, highlighted gaps in tracking and brought into question policies in place.”

“As a concerned parent and data scientist, Liz used her skills to compile an amazing data dashboard, coding to periodically scrape data from publicly available sources in an easy-to-use, centralized format to help better under the role of schools in the coronavirus pandemic. Since we know that asymptomatic spread and a lack of testing are leading to serious undercounts, Liz’s dashboard provides a critical lower bound of confirmed, official cases and other data points that allow for better policy decisions knowing it is the tip of the iceberg.”

Click here to follow Elizabeth Shulok on Twitter.

Click here to see Elizabeth’s website.