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Better Data, Better Outcomes

Welcome to the Pandemic Data Initiative

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center spotlights the need to improve data collection and reporting to better fight the next pandemic.

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Authors:
Beth Blauer, Executive Director
May 17, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed more than the world’s natural vulnerabilities to combating a novel coronavirus. It also revealed massive technological vulnerabilities that left the United States and other nations ill equipped to deploy a rapid, uniform response to curb transmission of the virus.

One of the missing elements that informs all aspects of an efficient and effective response is the collecting, confirming, reporting, and sharing of standardized data in near real time.

While the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center (CRC) has excelled at analyzing and applying available COVID-19 data with a public health perspective, the CRC and data scientists worldwide have struggled to work with COVID-19 data that is inconsistent, incomplete, and insufficient.

The lack of federal standards for collecting and reporting vital data on COVID-19 tests, hospitalizations, confirmed cases, and deaths contributed to the rapid spread of the virus last year, with the United States suffering more than any nation in the world.

The virus thrived amid a patchwork of policies among states whose public health experts struggled to contend with the politicization of evidence-based mitigation measures including masking, physical distancing, quarantines, and shutdowns.

The virus thrived amid a lack of trust in federal public health leadership and the unfettered spread of misleading or outright false information via social media and other venues.

And, the virus thrived amid a dearth of data collection and reporting standards that would have helped the public and private sectors better detect, track, and halt COVID-19 transmission.

The fight against the virus could have been strengthened by an established data infrastructure that would have allowed rapid communication between health and data scientists, and permitted data-informed decisions at the local, state, and federal levels. The weaknesses exposed in data infrastructure nearly 17 months ago have not been addressed; today the U.S. tracks vaccination data in an equally scattershot manner.

The nation and the world cannot afford to continue making these mistakes when the next pandemic or other public health crisis could upend hard-won progress, especially at a time when advances in Big Data should make tracking infectious diseases as easy as tracking the location of digital devices, packages, and people anywhere on the planet.

In addition, the lack of comprehensive demographic data cloaks the disproportionate impact the virus is inflicting on minority communities. Holes in the data hinder governments’ ability to deploy resources and health care -- including vaccines -- where they are needed most.

The Pandemic Data Initiative will explore data inconsistencies that yielded a suboptimal response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It seeks to spotlight the breadth of data disconnects among the states and the federal government agencies charged with defeating COVID-19. The Pandemic Data Initiative will demonstrate how challenges in data collection and reporting hindered effective responses. And, finally, we will highlight possible solutions through a regular forum that will drill deeper into uniform approaches to pandemic data management.

Please visit us each week to learn of new research and analysis into this important subject, including a weekly blog on data complications and how to implement data reporting best practices, live forums among key stakeholders, briefings on data topics in the news, and interviews with data experts.

Beth Blauer, Executive Director

Beth Blauer is Executive Director of the Centers for Civic Impact at Johns Hopkins. Blauer and her team transform raw COVID-19 data into clear and compelling visualizations that help policymakers and the public understand the pandemic and make evidence-based decisions about health and safety.