Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center to stop publishing daily data updates

A little over three years ago, a Johns Hopkins University civil engineering professor stayed up late with one of her graduate students, building a dashboard in the student’s Google Drive to map the budding spread of a highly contagious virus in Asia.

In the months that followed, the site created by the professor, Lauren Gardner, and her student, Ensheng Dong, evolved into a robust hub of information about the COVID-19 pandemic that informed big public policy decisions, as well as more personal ones, such as whether it’s safe to go to the grocery store or see a friend.


But on March 10, Hopkins’ Coronavirus Resource Center — which launched on March 3, 2020, about a month and a half after Gardner and Dong’s original site — will update its maps and charts one last time.

After that, although the center’s full data set from Jan. 22, 2020, to March 10, 2023, will remain free and accessible through the site’s Github repositories, the interdisciplinary research team behind the award-winning resource will no longer collect and report fresh data on the virus every day.


There wasn’t one tipping point in the team’s decision, said Beth Blauer, associate vice provost for public sector innovation at Johns Hopkins and the center’s data lead.

Since 2021, U.S. states and counties have been reducing the amount of data they share with the public on the local spread of the virus — a change that prompted the center in September to stop updating its testing and vaccine data every hour.

As of last month, according to a university news release Friday, only Arkansas, New York and Puerto Rico publish daily data for cases and deaths. The Maryland Department of Health publishes fresh data on cases and deaths Monday through Friday.

“It is, kind of, the big question about public data,” Blauer said. “The fact of the matter is, if it’s not being shared, then we can’t continue to support a resource like the Coronavirus Resource Center and the underlying data.”

The widespread use of at-home test kits for the virus also has diminished the accuracy of case data, Blauer said in the release.

Now, Gardner said, hospitalization data — which is reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — is the best and most reliable data public health experts have on the spread of COVID-19.

When Johns Hopkins launched its resource center, governments lacked the capacity to provide up-to-date public data on the spread of the virus. But that has since changed, Gardner said. Now, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization both host comprehensive COVID-19 data trackers.

“The maintenance of an infrastructure like this is something that is a public service and should be provided by the public sector with public sector information,” said Gardner, who was awarded the esteemed Lasker-Bloomberg Public Service Award in 2022 for her work with Dong to launch the dashboard.


Over time, the Coronavirus Resource Center grew to include a county-level breakdown of data, as well as maps, graphs and charts that visualized data testing, hospitalizations, contact tracing, vaccines, public policy decisions and more.

Since the center’s launch, Hopkins said in Friday’s news release, the website has been viewed more than 2.5 billion times and users around the world have generated more than 200 billion data requests.

“It’s the biggest web thing we’ll ever work on, probably, in our careers,” Blauer said. “Hopefully,” she added with a laugh.

The resource center has expanded into a collaboration of researchers and faculty from across Johns Hopkins, including the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Whiting School of Engineering, Applied Physics Laboratory, School of Medicine, Sheridan Libraries and the Bloomberg Center for Government Excellence.

Besides Gardner and Blauer, center’s other leaders and advisers include Dr. William Moss, executive director of the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s International Vaccine Access Center; Dr. Brian Garibaldi, director of the Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Center; Crystal Watson, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security; Lainie Rutkow, vice provost for interdisciplinary initiatives; and Jennifer Nuzzo, formerly of the Center for Health Security.

The places where researchers have found data for the center have changed constantly over the last three years, Gardner said.


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At first, researchers relied on local news articles, as well as the social media feeds of WHO regional offices and other public health experts. Even after counties and states started regularly updating their own dashboards with COVID-19 trends, the team had to stay nimble as the amount of data available, and how often it was posted, changed all the time.

That meant maintenance of the resource center has been no simple task.

“Because of the changing landscape of data, it isn’t like you can set it and forget it,” Blauer said. “We have these processes, we’ve refined them overtime, but it’s still, right now, a full-time job for many people.”

Moving forward, Hopkins said in the release, the faculty and experts who led the resource center will continue providing analysis and guidance for the ongoing pandemic. Hopkins experts, including Gardner and Blauer, also will continue advocating for better public data.

Even after researchers stop updating the Coronavirus Resource Center, Gardner and Blauer said, they hope the ambitious project will prompt government and public health leaders to consider the role that data played in helping them navigate the pandemic — and take steps to improve data infrastructure before the next pandemic strikes.

Publishing transparent, reliable, easy-to-understand data is especially important right now, Blauer said, as politicization, polarization and distrust of public systems runs rampant.


“Obfuscating data, or keeping data hidden from the public,” she said, “is a way to continue to propagate distrust.”