POST WRITTEN BY: Jisha Joseph
The website collects data from various sources, such as local health departments, and cross-checks the data with the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Avi Schiffmann—a high school junior—began tracking the Coronavirus long before most of the world realized the true scale of the epidemic. Deciding that he would build a website to monitor cases and provide facts about the mystery virus spreading across China, the 17-year-old set about coding. In December 2019, he launched ncov2019.liveand in the months since then, it has garnered millions of page views as concerned netizens across the globe braced for the outbreak.
“I thought it would be cool if there was a website that could pull in all the information from all kinds of (sources),” Schiffmann told TODAY. “I mainly wanted to create something that would show the data as accurately as possible because there has been a lot of misinformation.” The teen, who attends Mercer Island High School in Mercer Island, Washington, while also earning credits at Bellevue College, is a self-taught coder who participates in hackathons and hopes to “create something really big” one day. His Coronavirus tracking website collects data from various sources, such as local health departments, and cross-checks the data with the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The ncov2019.live dashboard features quick facts, including the total number of confirmed cases, number of confirmed cases outside China, number of deaths, number of people recovered, and the all the countries where Coronavirus has been confirmed. Schiffmann’s program updates these numbers every 10 minutes. Although the code updates the data automatically, the teen still devotes about six hours a day to improve the site. “I’m always adding new features. It’s going to adapt as it goes along. In the future, it might be less interesting to know there are five cases in France. We might be more interested in knowing the percentage increase from last week to this week,” he explained.
Talking to The Seattle Times, Schiffmann recounted how the website first came together. “I started working on an older version in late December when information was hard to find. It was scattered around by sources like the WHO, the CDC. I thought it would be good to pull everything together. A lot of the website was written in massive sprees: watching YouTube videos, learning Linux (an open-source operating system) setting up servers… Before the second version of the site went live, I spent the entire weekend in my room, on my bed, staying up until 7 a.m., sleeping until 2 p.m,” he revealed.
“I’ve made it so it cross-checks the information and numbers with dozens of sources. People also read it and send me messages if it’s inaccurate… It has been a little stressful sometimes. A while ago, there was a massive bug, where it doubled all the numbers of coronavirus cases. And I got hundreds of messages. But overall, I’ve done a good job of managing my server,” Schiffmann stated. Speaking of why he chose to include the number of people who’ve recovered from the virus, he said, “I thought it would be cool if we could have the numbers of those who recovered. It shows that it is not all negative. The recovery number is big.”
Having sifted through information about Coronavirus for months, Schiffmann quickly noticed how unprepared the world was for an epidemic of this scale. “It’s really hard to know which numbers are accurate. So many health departments don’t release information publicly, or under-report,” he said. “But my biggest takeaway is that the world isn’t as prepared as they should be. China built a new hospital in 10 days. They should prepare in advance for something like this. They should figure out what to do if school closes for multiple months. No one in America has been freaked out until the past week.”