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Month: March 2020

Public Data Still Lacking on COVID-19 Outbreak

As you are reading this, you are probably (like me) under quarantine or shelter in place due to the COVID-19 outbreak. As a data scientist who has been stuck in the house since 10 March, I wanted to take a look at the data and see what I could figure out. I’m not an epidemiologist and claim no expertise in health care, but I do know data science so please take what I am saying with a grain of salt.

Why is there no data?

My first observation is that very little data is actually being made publicly available. I am not sure why this is the case, but I spent a considerable amount of time digging through the WHO, CDC and other agencies’ websites and APIs and found little usable data. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) posts daily situation reports with data, however the sitreps contain data, however the files are in PDF format. I attempted to extract these tables from the PDFs however this proved to be extremely difficult as the formatting was not consistent. It would be trivial to post this data in CSV, HDF5 or some other format that is conducive to data analysis, however the WHO did not choose to do that. I found generally the same situation at the other major health institutions such as the CDC.

Health related information in the United States is regulated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which imposes draconian fines and restrictions on private health information, so some of the secrecy may be due to this law.

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