For the latest COVID-19 statistics, updated in near real-time, millions of people around the world have been turning to an interactive, web-based dashboard created by a small team at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. From its humble beginnings, that dashboard has become one of the world’s most authoritative sources for the latest coronavirus numbers and trends. The Hopkins project has filled an information vacuum, providing the most up-to-date, comprehensive picture of the virus’s global scope and spread. The dashboard was born, as these things often are, under the influence of caffeine. “We were sitting around a table. We were all drinking lattes,” recalls Lauren Gardner , 35, associate professor of civil and systems engineering at Johns Hopkins. This was back on January 21st. Gardner, whose specialty is modeling the spread of infectious diseases such as Zika , dengue and measles , had been paying close attention to early reports of a deadly new virus spreading in China. Lauren Gardner, associate professor of civil and systems engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Will Kirk/Johns Hopkins University Will Kirk/Johns Hopkins University At that meeting over coffee, she asked Ensheng Dong, a first-year PhD student she advises, if he had been following news of the coronavirus. He had. Dong, 30, is from Shanxi province in China, and he knew there had been confirmed cases in his hometown. “I really worry about my family over there,” he told Gardner. What’s more, Dong has a lot of friends who live in Wuhan, which was then at the heart of the epidemic. “I could see their numbers growing larger and larger every day,” Dong says. Professor Gardner had an idea. “She mentioned, ‘Why don’t we make a dashboard?’” Dong says. “I’m thinking, yes, why not?!” So, Dong got busy, and by that same night he had created a dashboard showing cases of the novel coronavirus that would later be named COVID-19. Back then, his map was splashed with just a smattering of red circles, indicating a grand total of 320 confirmed cases. Nearly all of them were in China; there were a handful more in Thailand, Japan and South Korea. Over the months that followed, as the epidemic turned into a pandemic, and as the number of confirmed cases grew from several hundred to nearly two million, Dong watched those red circles on the map spread steadily and fast, all over the globe. “It’s kind of a bloody map,” Dong says. “There’s so many red dots everywhere.” In the first few weeks, Dong was entering all of the data by himself, manually plugging the numbers of confirmed cases, recoveries and deaths into the dashboard. That quickly turned into a monumental task. Now, nearly all of the data is entered automatically. As the dashboard grew more popular and demand surged, there were times when the servers crashed. “Actually, if I ever knew that this project will go [so] big, maybe I would [reconsider doing] that!” Dong jokes. Ensheng Dong, a first-year PhD student who helped create […]

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