A convergence of computer science talent leads to development of coronavirus tracking website
April 12, 2020
"I've never had a chance to work on something so real like this," shared Virginia Tech computer science junior Austin Stout, on his role in the development of the trackcorona.live website.
The site, launched in early February, provides near-real-time information about the spread of the coronavirus epidemic, including infection and mortality rates, recovery rates and locations by country, travel bans, and links to the latest news and additional information.
Stout is part on a four-person development team, ironically, all friends from Yorktown High School in Arlington, Virginia--now studying computer science at University of Virginia and Stanford University. Working remotely is not a new concept for the foursome, but they are all unified in being a part of this citizen science effort. Slack has been an effective mode of communications for the team working from their respective homes to share ideas and updates.
The student team uses data from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and other infectious disease information sources.
The trackcornona.live team include, from left, Virginia Tech student Austin Stout, Stanford University student Bilguunzaya Battogtokh, and University of Virginia students James Yun and Soukarya Ghosh.
"Because we will have a means to affect people's behavior and mindset, we can actually affect the spread of the virus in real time," shared Stout. Initially, he was instrumental in developing the travel page section, which has two features: an interactive globe that visualizes travel bans, and a "cases near me" section that displays in text the location of the nearest confirmed cases.
What started as a grassroots efforts site with only a smattering of clicks now stands at more than seven-million-page views, with users representing close to 200 countries. Stouts credits the website sharing power to word-of-mouth efforts, as well as people sharing a link in their group chats / social media pages, and referrals on news outlets.
The site has been met with a positive reception with individuals feeling empowered to suggest improvements for data visualization. Individuals have also donated to the site, allowing the developers to offset the costs for cloud computing other resources, which average $350 per day.
Stout's most recent contribution is the "flattening the curve" visualization, an interactive tool for people to understand why they must social distance in these times like this. "We can not only inform visitors about the spread of the virus, but actually change their minds regarding social isolation."