DC Parents Beg, Scrape and Crowdsource Covid-19 Data
Sandra Moscoso | February 5, 2021
This piece was written by DCOGC Board Member Sandra Moscoso and edited by Board Member Miranda Spivack.
This post is part of a series that will become a case study in the upcoming D.C. Open Government Coalition’s open government education and training program.
In the meantime, follow us on Twitter at @DCOGC, our Facebook page, and our new Instagram account to get word of each installment in this search for information about Covid-19 and its impact on schools, day cares, and other places children gather.
DIY Data Collection
The landscape of ‘official’ DC Government Data related to Covid in schools and cases reported since schools reopened after Winter Break.
What happens when the government hides data? When the data is critical for life and death decisions, residents beg, borrow, scrape and crowdsource.
Last week, I wrote in this blog that I have been downloading snapshots of Total Cases by Age and Gender from https://coronavirus.dc.gov/data. As I wrote in December, “to see the daily change in cases by age, you have to download the total data daily.”
Data scientist and Covid-watcher, Ryan Stahlin, a DC resident, reached out to share that he, too, has been scraping the daily snapshot of cases by age and publishing these on his D.C. Covid-19 Dashboard (https://dccovid.com/). Ryan also has been tracking DCPS cases by school, starting two weeks ago.
Dr. Betsy Wolf (education expert and DCPS parent), also maintains a cumulative record of in-person classes, cases, and exposure via this crowdsourced dataset.
These efforts by private citizens are necessary, because DC Health and DC Public Schools (DCPS) are not releasing sufficient data or breaking it into understandable chunks.
Data is a Public Resource (That We Pay For)
DC Health and DCPS collect all this data, and DC government has the infrastructure to make data open (downloadable, machine-readable) via https://opendata.dc.gov/pages/coronavirus. What is missing is not the data, nor the government tools. What appears to be missing is the commitment to transparency.
We all may have an interest in specific slices of the data. For example, parents want to know how many kids in DC have been tested, not just the number of positive results. Cases without context have the almost the same effect as failing to release any data. In other words, no transparency, even when it at first glance seems transparent.
To be clear, we (parents, teachers, community members) are not asking for reports – just the data. DC Health could offer a world of support by simply publishing more disaggregated data (see below for a list), documenting it (especially the limitations), and then setting it free (remember, taxpayers fund it).
This is not a lot to ask. Texas, Florida, Idaho, Tennessee, Ohio and a few other states publish cases at the school (or local education agency) levels. Wisconsin publishes tests (and results) at the school district level. The Office of the District of Columbia Auditor highlighted in November the gaps in data publishedby DC Health and pointed to examples of how transparency can be improved via “The District’s COVID-19 Data Reporting is Strong but Opportunities Exist for Improvement and Increased Transparency” Since this blog series is dedicated to data related to where children congregate, I will again make my pitch to DC Health to share data that could be useful to all of us:
- 🚨# of tests administered by age (time series) in the SAME age categories that positive tests are currently reported on 🚨
- # attendance by congregate setting, by staff and by student (time series)
- # of tests administered by congregate setting, by staff and by student (time series)
- # of positive results by age (time series)
- # of positive results by congregate setting, by staff and by student (time series)
- # quarantined by congregate setting, by staff and by student (time series)
- # loss of life by congregate setting, by staff and by student (time series)
*congregate setting = the specific school, daycare, or student resource center
We would love your thoughts, and if you know of anyone out there collecting and sharing this data (or related), please send them our way. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay tuned to keep up with our request. And come to our class in the spring where we’ll break it all down. Details soon.
Timeline (for those following along):
- Jan. 21 – DC Health’s General Counsel and FOIA Officer sent an update that the deadline for my request has been extended to March 31, 2021.
- Dec. 15 – Council Period 23 Report of the Committee of the Whole report issued.
- Dec. 14 – Councilmember Silverman introduced “Pandemic Learning Emergency Act of 2020”, which “Requires transparency in specific education and public health data related to in-person learning, including COVID test results by school.”
- Dec. 7 – DC Health’s General Counsel and FOIA Officer responded that a search has started and the “deadline for a final response” for the request is set to “January 25, 2021, subject to extension should the Mayor extend the public health emergency and subject to reduction should the Mayor terminate the public health emergency earlier than December 31, 2020.”
- Dec. 3 – DC Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt, when questioned about data on infections at big events (called “Covid clusters”), said at a press conference that the agency will release those data “when people can understand it and it won’t be misconstrued,” according to a reporter’s tweet.
- Dec. 2 – DC Council Committee of the Whole & the Committee on Education Public Roundtable on Return to In-person Instruction in DC Public Schools
- Dec. 2 – The mayor announced a new plan for testing even those without symptoms in the schools that are open – without a word about how the results will be shared.
- Nov. 23 – The Office of the District of Columbia Auditor (ODCA) issued recommendations for improved transparency on Covid-19 reporting, including “report new and cumulative COVID cases for all in person congregate settings for children, including all sectors of compulsory education (age 5 through 18)and all early childhood education and childcare centers (ages 0-5).”
- Nov. 18 – DC OGC board member and school parent Sandra Moscoso submitted a FOIA request to DC Health, acknowledged by the FOIA Portal, for the full set of data requested by Council member Allen.
- Nov. 18 – even so, the D.C. government’s coronavirus dashboard without fanfare started to include the number of cases and quarantines for students and staff at D.C. Public Schools (only). About 200 students returned to schools that day, far fewer than the school system predicted. No data are included in the dashboard on charter or private schools, daycares or student support centers, some of which have been open or partially open since the beginning of the school year.
- Nov. 18 – Allen later told parents that staff from D.C. Health confirmed that they do collect Covid-19 data related to schools and daycares, but the agency isn’t publishing it.
- Nov. 17 – Council member Allen included the Ward 6 group’s questions in the Council’s weekly list to the mayor’s office (an information system developed for the Covid-19 emergency to provide fast, on-the-record executive-branch answers to Council questions). The questions were:
- The number of cumulative and current active cases in the past seven days by setting, i.e., child care center or school, including traditional public, charter, and private.
- The number of students and separately the number of staff currently in quarantine due to Covid-19 by childcare center or school, including traditional public, charter, and private.
- The number of deaths due to Covid-19 of either staff or students who were in in-person childcare centers or schools, including traditional public, charter, and private (this doesn’t mean they had to have contracted Covid-19 in this setting).
- The cumulative number of outbreaks in childcare centers or schools, including traditional public, charter, and private and the definition being used to define an outbreak.
- Is this data being collected and tracked through our Contact Tracing? Can this be publicly reported on a regular and ongoing basis, perhaps weekly? If not, why?
- D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) was at the parents’ meeting. He agreed to follow up with D.C. Health to ask for specific data about Covid-19 cases in schools (and other settings for groups of children).
- Nov. 16 — the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization (W6PSPO) met to share experiences of walk-throughs and concerns about the DCPS reopenings two days away. Schools’ plans had changed several times; facts were sparse, and therefore controversies arose about what’s best. Word had circulated that a DCPS principal was disciplined for even questioning assumptions on equipment readiness and other details of the plan.