One of the most accurate and updated numbers on the coronavirus pandemic can be found in a website developed by Avi Schiffmann, a 17-year old living in Mercer Island, Seattle.
The website "nCoV2019.live" was launched last December, when coronavirus had not yet been detected outside of China. The site, which has millions of visitors from around the globe, tracks deaths and numbers of cases locally and globally, provides an interactive map, information on the disease, and a Twitter feed.
Information in the website is updated every minute, and it pulls information from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and other sources. The website also features a highlighted section showcasing quick facts about the pandemic.
American news programme "Democracy Now!" recently interviewed the teenager on the show's 56th episode of the current season, aired on March 13.
The 15-minute video conference between the show's host Amy Goodman and Avi Schiffmann neatly described from where aspirations for the website came, how he learned to code and the future features of the website.
How the website started
When Amy Goodman asked the teenager why the website was launched, Schiffmann said he launched the website in December last year to make information regarding the virus easy to access.
"I started this website around Christmas of last year. And I mean, the main goal of it was to provide just an easy way to see the straight facts and the data, you know, without having to make a website that was biased or, you know, full of ads or anything like that," said Schiffmann.
According to him, one can go on a phone and just instantly get the quick facts. They can see the total amount of cases, the total deaths and "all that kind of information."
"I didn't want to make it hard. You know, you shouldn't have to go through government websites and download like a daily PDF that's probably out of date by the time you read it, and, you know, have to go through all kinds of complicated things, just to see, you know, the straight facts," he added.
Schiffmann's interest sparked when misinformation started spreading about the coronavirus.
He further said, "When I started this website, there was less than like a thousand total cases, and they were all just in like the Wuhan area of China. So, I saw this on the news kind of a long time ago, and I noticed that it was really hard just to find the information.
"And there was a lot of just misinformation spreading. So I decided it would be kind of cool to create a website and just kind of make it like a central hub of information."
When asked about how he picked up the skills to develop such a website, Avi Schiffmann pointed out that he is self-taught, with help from online-sources and has been programming for a long time.
He added, "I have been programming for about a decade now. But I have only been doing web development for a couple months. So, a lot of it was, you know, just kind of learning as I went along. I mean, you can learn like anything online.
"I just kind of — you know, if I had a question, I didn't know how to do a certain thing, I just went on Google and searched it up, figured out how to do it and eventually got it to work."
Schiffmann also outlined, "I learned by myself, just watching YouTube videos and just reading online kind of articles and things. I mean, I can just go on YouTube, and I can find a 14-hour-long tutorial on how to code websites. You know, there is anything out there."
How does the website work?
The 17 year old programmer said the entire website updates every minute or so – working with web scraping. It enables him to input data from other websites such as the government health department websites or even new agencies.
"I basically just wrote a script that every minute or so just goes to those websites and downloads the latest information."
Features in the website such as the number of people affected overall in the globe, by country and by region were added from the feedbacks Schiffmann got.
"I started to get a lot of emails saying that the site was kind of overly negative. And 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. So I added that to the quick facts," Schiffmann explained.
Emphasizing on hope, he said, "In every single country, you can see how many people have recovered, which I think gives people a lot of hope, because you can see, in places like Korea, I think, they reported more people that recovered today than people that had been infected, which is really big."
"And I am also working on things like a vaccine tracker to continue making it more positive, because it should not have to be, you know, super negative and you only see the amount of people that have died."
New addition – a vaccine tracker
Researchers are already working conscientiously for a vaccine against the coronavirus. Schiffmann decided it would bring hope to people if his website would showcase the progress.
"So, right now, there is no cure, but plenty of people are working on some kind of preventative measures. So I thought it would be kind of interesting for people to kind of track that, I guess, you know, track their progress and how far they are into these clinical trials, you know, what stage they are in, and all that kind of cool stuff," he added.
Visitors and users numbering in millions
Schiffmann stated that the current viewership number of the website is around 35 million. During the interview, he said that in the last 24 hours about six-and-a-half million visitors have visited the website.
Majority of these people are from the US, with Taiwan, United Kingdom and France. Schiffmann is currently working on translations to cater to the traffic from Europe and Asia.
The teenager said, "So, what's really interesting is that only about 60 percent of my traffic is from the United States, which means that I'm able to see it breaking down per country. And actually, I get a lot of visitors from places like Taiwan and, you know, United Kingdom and France.
"That is why I'm also working on translations, because, you know, if you're in Taiwan, you might like to see the website in Chinese more than English. So I am working on things like that too."
Monitoring the transmission
The Mercer Island teen said tracking the coronavirus has enabled for better insights about a region or country, and even allowing comparison of the numbers with another country or region. The numbers even pose as a true picture of the healthcare system in those countries and regions.
The pointed out, "So, one thing that is been really interesting to see is that you can see countries like Iran and South Korea. They used to have, you know, pretty similar kind of case counts, but you would see that Iran would have five times more deaths, which is just insane.
"So I think it is really interesting that you are able to see the kind of difference in fatality rates depending on the country's healthcare system and how they're dealing with it, you know, transparency-wise."
Name and future of the site
Avi Schiffmann named the website after unofficial name of the virus. He agreed the domain name of the website not only was difficult to say, but even to remember. However, he is thinking of changing the domain to serve a broader purpose.
"So, right now the website domain is nCoV2019.live, which is pretty hard to even say or remember. So, I mean, that used to be the unofficial name of the virus, but now that it's changed, I'd like to rename the website," Schiffmann told Goodman.
Responding to a question about the website's future, Avi Schiffmann said, "I bought a domain called GermTracker.com. That way, it's so much easier to remember. And that way, I can also use it in the future for more global pandemics, I mean, because there is only going to be another big thing a couple years from now. And, you know, I'll be the first one to make a tracker for it. So…"
Avi Schiffmann's contribution in fight against coronavirus may seem a passive one, but anything helping in stifling of the spread of the pandemic is worth applauding for.