This project post is likely to change over time, the most recent update has been applied on: 06-28-2020
The impetus for this personal project came shortly after picking up the skills and techniques needed to develop similar dashboards for Shiny App use and for Gun Violence research with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This project post will be less coding-focused since many of the same techniques can be found in other projects and parts of my tutorials section of the site.
Why this Dashboard Exists
Currently there are numerous data sources to track COVID-19 data and plenty of amazing visuals (as well as some misleading and alarming ones), so why bother to make another?
I wanted to make a dashboard I could refer to quickly that was both manageable in size and that I could relate to directly. I live in Philadelphia and Open Data Philly (a familiar data resource on this site) is a great resource to tap into. Global trends are much more unwieldy, and there are other better-equipped teams than one “me” to handle them, but I knew I could start with my city and develop a tool for daily tracking.
2) Data Credibility
The following phrases are probably achingly familiar:
- “We live in silos”
- “Everyone is talking in an echo chamber”
- “Everyone has their own opinion on the matter”
It doesn’t stand to hold a discussion with someone when you are both throwing assumptions and loaded statements at each other. Creating this tool gives me credible certainty that I can speak on aspects of this pandemic with confidence. How do I know that cases are rising or falling in Philadelphia? Because I made the tool that tracks it and vetted the data feeding into it myself. There’s not much to argue about there.
I don’t expect everyone to go out and make a data-driven piece of software to pull out of their pocket as proof when they need a “gotcha!” moment. However, I do think that if you’re going to discuss literal life and death subjects like this that it helps to have sources and rationale to back up your claims. For me, data-driven solutions and tools are one way of achieving that credibility.
3) This is Real, and it’s Important
As stated earlier, it’s not my goal to be political on this site. And for that matter, I don’t believe COVID-19 is a political issue. It’s a humanitarian one. There are so many voices screaming from different sides of an “aisle” when some things are abjectly clear. Here are some facts worth noting:
- According to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Tracker as of 6-24-2020 there have been 481,036 reported deaths of which the 121,902 occurred in the United States. The annual flu reported 34,200 estimated deaths by comparison in 2018-2019.
- As of 6-24-2020 Philadelphia, PA is getting ready to enter the green phase while states like Florida, Arizona, Texas, and much of the southern and western parts of the country are seeing record infection rates on the rise. And while efforts have been made to quell proof of this spread (please check out and support Rebekah Jones’ Dashboard), across the globe South Korea issued fears of an imminent second wave. Coming from a country that notably imposed restrictions faster than most this is distinctly alarming.
- COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting black and racial/ethnic minority groups. The social and economic reasons for this can be an entire thesis on its own but the social justice component of the pandemic in this country can’t be ignored.
- COVID-19 infection and death rates have greatly impacted condensed and vulnerable populations such as Native Americans, prisons, and nursing homes. These populations are often overlooked, forgotten about, or treated as secondary.
To ignore the huge impact this virus has had on vulnerable populations, let alone the world over, is to reject the minimal decency that must be afforded them. If I can lend just one more visual aid to educate and advocate for the validity and importance of this need, then I believe it’s worthwhile to do so.
Why this Dashboard Matters
The state of data science, really all science, in its relation to public crises like COVID-19 and the current civil unrest following the death of George Floyd is shocking to say the least (I hope in the future to investigate topics like civil justice and police brutality more in future projects). When I think of the massive amount of acceptance for disinformation coupled with the absolute rejection of evidenced-based research, words like “shocking” don’t quite capture how I feel.
One argument I see a lot is the public distrust for organizations like the CDC and WHO due to changing guidelines. That the evolution of findings and suggestions is indicative that those making these findings don’t know what they’re doing, and that everyone is better off defaulting to the version of truth that makes them feel most comfortable. Science at its purest form is a beautiful system of discovery with a feedback loop that helps to increasingly and perpetually narrow down uncertainty. One of the pillars of research that drives momentum and progress is the excitement that what you understand today is nothing compared to what you will learn tomorrow. This virus is brand new to us and we are constantly learning new things about it, so it should come as no surprise when those findings create change. In fact it’s remarkable how fast our scientific community is working already, with hopes of a vaccine by the end of the year. Consider that the usual timeline for a drug to go from inception to market takes 10 to 12 years and only 5 out of 5000 make it (a whopping 0.1%).
Right now, people are suffering, hurting, confused, and agitated. Not only is there mixed messaging from leadership but we live in a time where every opinion is given equal power through social media and the responsibility for proper consumption has been placed entirely on the consumer. I’ve seen many examples where individuals seek out the one immunologist, the one medical doctor, the one surgeon who will say the right words to fit individual’s comfort in the face of a body of medicine screaming and pleading the opposite. It is utterly disheartening to see friends, colleagues, and even my own work tossed aside when we are all doing our best to present evidence in the purest form we can using the education and skillsets we picked up for this exact purpose.
These things are important because they continue the dialogue and promote awareness and right now those need to be maintained. At the end of the day all any of us are asking is for others to listen.
And while I have your attention, for the love of god please wear a mask
The COVID-19 Philadelphia, PA Dashboard
If the below dashboard does not render properly you may need to refresh (it is a known bug that the initial map at times does not load on the first try). You may also wish to zoom out of your browser or open the app separately in a new tab.