Mar 4, 2022 - COVID

Exit interview: How one D.C. resident documented the pandemic

A map of COVID-19 case data
A screenshot (taken March 3) of the main page of DCCovid.com showing neighbor case levels.

For nearly two years, DCCovid.com helped more than 18,000 users better understand the pandemic in D.C.— through case, vaccination, and hospital data.

Driving the news: DC Health announced Wednesday that it’s aligning its own community COVID-19 metrics with the CDC and will also begin reporting COVID-19 data on a weekly basis.

Due to the decreased reporting schedule, Ryan Stahlin, the data scientist and federal contractor behind DCCovid.com, is retiring the website he started in Nov. 2020 with just a $12 domain name. Axios asked him to reflect on his time documenting the pandemic.

  • Stahlins responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Q. How did you build out the site?

  • The site started out with the basics — case data and positivity rates. Stahlin drew from various data sources from DC Health, including its case count emails and spreadsheets. When vaccine data was being released, Stahlin manually copied down the info based on pictures D.C. was sharing of the data. This was often a precarious process, one that Stahlin many times took days or weeks to do to avoid releasing incorrect data.
  • “I think one of the difficulties is gauging how reliable the data is, because a lot of times, things could have typos or they could get corrected in the next week’s worth of data,” he says.

Q. What did users find the most useful in the data? Did you get any feedback?

  • “I think one of the things that people were most interested in was their own neighborhood. It’s one thing to say that the city is trending in one direction or another. But sometimes neighborhoods within the city can be worse, better, or about average with the rest of the city,” Stahlin says.

Q. What are your reflections as you sunset the site?

  • There’s constant tension and value in staying in your lane, Stahlin says.
  • “My value as a data guy is that I can interpret trends and visualize data … [but] I can’t say definitively whether the government should institute a mask mandate or repeal a vaccine mandate,” he says.

Q. What else should people know about your coronavirus data?

  • “Something that was really kind of depressing for me was … [filling] out the race of every death in D.C., and it was really sad to see the majority of deaths were older Black residents, presumably unvaccinated,” Stahlin says. “I’m hoping that people are able to continue to do that sort of analysis where we look at who is dying right now, who is getting COVID, and the inequities there.”

Q. What’s your hobby going to be now?

  • “I’m trying to get in shape for a triathlon,” Stahlin says. “Maybe I’ll find some sort of data hobby. I was looking into making a little Capital Bikeshare visualization app … because I love biking. And I love seeing all the Capital Bikeshare data.”
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