‘New benchmark’: The woman behind the Johns Hopkins COVID dashboard wins the grand prize

At first it was a lifeline, an organized collection of facts amid a whirlpool of uncertainty and misinformation related to the coronavirus.

“Looks like this will be another day where there’s a battle to do anything while staring at Johns Hopkins dashboard,” Michigan editor chirp on April 13, 2020, along with a screenshot of the global death toll so far at that time: 114,983.

Nearly two and a half years later, more than 6.5 million people have died from COVID-19, hundreds of millions of infections have been recorded and Lauren Gardner, the Johns Hopkins engineer who led the creation of the university’s COVID-19 dashboard, has been identified. Grand prize.

On Wednesday, Gardner won the 2022 Lasker-Bloomberg Public Service Award. Previous honorees include Doctors Without Borders and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Awarded by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation for achievement in the medical sciences, the Lasker Prizes are sometimes referred to as “America’s Nobel,” and many honorees go on to win Nobel Prizes.

The judges said the dashboard “set a new standard for publishing reliable, real-time public health data,” and “eliminated the hype of misinformation and become the most authoritative and reliable source of information on the COVID pandemic.”

COVID-19 Dashboard: Track the pandemic in real time

The dashboard first appeared to the public in January 2020, when the majority of people in the United States were still carelessly going about their business, acknowledging only the spread of the virus through Wuhan, China.

Before the pandemic, Texas-born Gardner was an academic specializing in infectious disease modeling. She had returned from an eight-year stint at the University of New South Wales less than a year ago to take up a position as an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering.

In January 2020, Gardner was chatting with graduate student Insheng Dong, who was anxiously searching for updates for the family in Shanxi Province, China. Gardner suggested creating a map to track the virus globally. Dong created a website in a day, and after making some modifications, it became a live website.

In the early days, when the pair were working on manually importing data, they imagined the map as a valuable tool for a relatively small community of academics and researchers monitoring the spread of the virus.

Then the stay-at-home orders hit. In their shock and confusion, people went searching for reliable information about the spread of a virus that is upending their lives. They found the dashboard at Hopkins. In March 2020, the website that hosted the map, arcgis.com, recorded nearly a billion visits.

Johns Hopkins University professor Lauren Gardner has been honored with a Lasker-Bloomberg Public Service Award for quickly mobilizing her lab to engineer a COVID-19 dashboard.

(Lasker Foundation)

In the absence of a constant flow of data from the US Centers for Disease Control or other trusted government institutions, and with the spread of misinformation on the Internet, the tracker allows policy makers, health care providers, and ordinary people to make responsible decisions.

“When I could see increasing numbers in the United States and neighboring states, we started implementing procedures to see virtually our immunocompromised patients and keep them protected,” said Dr. Michelle Reault, a pediatric nephrologist at the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital. “While it was terrifying to watch on some days, it provided the knowledge I needed to do my job.”

Gardner and her students knew that work was important. But they were shocked when they realized how many people depend on it.

“It was all a surprise. We knew it mattered. I knew data was so valuable, because I’ve always worked where we needed that kind of data and we didn’t have that,” Gardner said. “But I guess I didn’t expect to be the source The only one for that.”

In addition to honoring Gardner, the Foundation awarded this year’s Basic Medical Research Award to Richard O. Hines, Erki Roslahti, and Timothy A. and pointing.

Yuk Ming Dennis Lo won a clinical research award for discovering fetal DNA in a mother’s blood, reducing the need for invasive and potentially harmful prenatal testing procedures.

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