Excluding NORAD’s Christmas Eve Santa tracker, there may not be a world map viewed so many times as the one Johns Hopkins University engineers created to keep tabs on COVID-19.
Housed on a Hopkins graduate student’s Google Drive, it crashed the day it launched in January 2020 as scientists and the public alike clamored for information on a novel killer virus that was not provided by the government or anyone else.
It pulled data from many sources and used easy-to-understand and ever-expanding red dots that formed real-time pictures of the coronavirus pandemic, like a Georges Seurat painting, only more menacing.
Eventually the Hopkins COVID-19 map was viewed 2.5 billion times, won gobs of attention and a prestigious scientific award for the lead engineer, Lauren Gardner, who became an evangelist for public health data alongside her colleagues in Baltimore.
But it is no more, and devotees began their first work week without their statistical fix.
The map now sits frozen with numbers many became numb to ages ago: 676,609,955 cases and 6,881,955 deaths around the world. A note from the pandemic-era Hopkins center where it became professionally housed says the university stopped collecting data as of March 10, 2023. The free data will now be relegated to research and history.
“After three years of around-the-clock tracking of COVID-19 data from around the world, Johns Hopkins has discontinued the Coronavirus Resource Center’s operations. The site’s two raw data repositories will remain accessible for information collected from 1/22/20 to 3/10/23 on cases, deaths, vaccines, testing and demographics.”
Gardner, who is director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, has said other institutions at the time were not providing COVID data, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Now they are equipped for the job, and now largely rely on data on hospitalizations.
She and others have cautioned against complacency in setting up and maintaining permanent systems able to collect public health data crucial to understanding and curtailing major health threats.
She and grad student Ensheng Dong, who initially envisioned the data project, have said they did not intend to scare anyone with the data. They also didn’t set out to become a central, and much-copied, purveyor of COVID information.
Ron Daniels, Johns Hopkins University president, said in a statement that every division of the university ended up contributing to make the Coronavirus Resource Center “into an invaluable, trusted source of information and guidance relied on by the public and policymakers.”
He added the university “remains committed to providing the public with the most up-to-date research and analysis of the pandemic and will use these same tools to keep building a safer, healthier, more stable global community.”
But after all this time and billions of data queries on the map site, there wasn’t sufficient data collection to continue regular updates. Many states wouldn’t and then couldn’t get data due to the proliferation of home rapid tests that went unreported.
“[W]e have reached the appropriate time to close this chapter of our response and look to other ways to keep the public safe and informed,” Gardner said in a statement. “But if we’re needed again, we stand ready and willing to serve.”