Avi Schiffmann wants to keep you safe. A 17-year old high schooler in Washington State, Schiffmann collaborated with an engineer from Cloudflare to develop ncov2019.live, a site that acts as a virtual dashboard and coronavirus live tracker.
While everyone is practicing social distancing, Schiffmann has chosen to lean in out of a sense of personal responsibility and global citizenship. He started the site in late December 2019, when coronavirus was still contained in Wuhan, China.
“The main goal of it was to provide an easy way to see the straight facts and the data, without having to make a website that was biased or full of ads,” Schiffman said in a transcript from Democracy Now. “You shouldn’t have to go through government websites and download a daily PDF that’s probably out of date by the time you read it.”
How It Works
Schiffmann’s site derives its content from local governments and health departments, including BNO News, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
What sets it apart from other COVID-19 trackers is the size and scope of the data. Updated every minute, ncov2019.live not only lists the number of confirmed cases, serious cases and number of deaths, but also the number of people who have made a full recovery.
“That [full recovery data] wasn’t there for quite a while,” Schiffman said. “I started to get a lot of emails saying that the site was kind of overly negative. I decided that it would be really cool if I could show how many people were recovering, to give people a more positive outlook and maybe more hope. In every single country, you can see how many people have recovered, which I think gives people a lot of hope.”
In the vein of creating a more positive outlook, Schiffman is also planning to add a vaccine tracker to his site. “Around the world, there are plenty of governments and private health companies working on antiviral medications, and there are vaccine trials going on,” he said. “So right now, there’s no cure, but plenty of people are working on preventative measures. I thought it would be interesting to track their progress and how far they are into these clinical trials.
Who’s Using It
The site’s data is also broken out according to a wider regional scope, including global, US, Europe, Canada, China, Australia and Latin America. Search windows are available in every region to further investigate the data.
More than 40 million people are using his site worldwide to track the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, which is captured in an interactive map and a live Twitter feed. Schiffman isn’t as interested in the number of people who visit, so much as where they’re visiting from.
“What’s really interesting is that only about 60% of my traffic is from the United States, which means that I’m able to see it breaking down per country,” he said. “I get a lot of visitors from places like Taiwan, the United Kingdom and France. A lot of places in Europe and Asia visit my website, too. So I’m also working on translations because if you’re in Taiwan, you might like to see the website in Chinese.”
Coronavirus Live Tracker’s Creator
Schiffmann’s resume says the 17-year-old has been programming since the age of seven and reads like that of a professional web developer several years his senior. His inquisitive nature makes him well-suited to the project.
“I’ve been programming for about a decade now,” he said. “But I’ve only been doing web development for a couple of months. A lot of it was kind of learning as I went along. You can learn anything online. If I didn’t know how to do a certain thing, I searched it up, figured out how to do it and eventually got it to work.”
Schiffmann uses web scraping to access content, which is the extraction and copying of data from a website into a structured format using a computer program. This is what allows him to update the site at such a rapid pace.
“I’m able to input websites, such as Korea’s. They have a local government health department website that updates those numbers all the time,” Schiffmann said. “So I’m able to web scrape those tables and get the latest information. I basically wrote a script that every minute or so goes to those websites and downloads the latest information.”
Now that school is officially closed, Schiffman is able to dedicate more time to the website, as well as future pursuits to make the world a better place. “We’re at the point where we can use technology (for) all kinds of great online things, like world events,” he says. “When Ebola came out, or SARS, there wasn’t a website you could go to easily and just see these stats updated every minute. I think it’s really interesting how I can help combat misinformation and provide the straight facts.”
His goal? “I hope it inspires a lot of people to learn programming and make their own tracker in the future, because the more information that’s easily accessible, the better.”