COVID-19 Modeling | One Year Later: Visualization Team Leader (ASL)

Published March 26, 2021

Ryan Shackleton, the visualizations team leader, describes the first month of developing the COVID-19 projections tool.

Transcription: The COVID-19 forecasting project was first mentioned to me when several members of the data visualization team were contacted and we were told that IHME needed to create an interactive visualization to display hospital resource forecasts associated with COVID-19. We were told that hospitals might start to reach capacity, that hospital administrators would need to use IHME forecasts to step up and allocate resources. We were also told that we would need to have this visualization up and running in about a week which is way faster than we have ever done anything before.

So that request prompted what turned out to be a monthlong remote hackathon where we built the beginnings of what is now – those early days were some of the most grueling and also most rewarding work days I’ve ever experienced. We basically worked days, nights, and weekends for a month and spent a lot of time in these sessions coding together on Zoom and someone would occasionally pipe up to ask for help on a problem or feedback on a design element. People would duck in and out to eat but someone was almost always in the room.

It was an incredibly fun way to work despite being so intense and it was really wild because nobody was really telling us how to be working – everyone was all-in and excited to be helping out. From a professional standpoint it was incredibly exciting to see something my team had directly helped create being used for decision making at such high levels. Even if some of those policy makers didn’t continue to make the best decisions around COVID-19, it validated the hard work we'd been doing. It started to feel like IHME was on the right track to becoming a key resource for health policy decisions.