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Seattle Teen Spreading Info on Coronavirus
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Seattle Teen Spreading Info on Coronavirus

Seventeen-year-old computer whiz Avi Schiffmann working on his ncov2019.live website.
David Schiffmann
Seventeen-year-old computer whiz Avi Schiffmann working on his ncov2019.live website. David Schiffmann

A Jewish teenager from the Seattle area has built a website that is keeping the world updated on the COVID-19 pandemic as it spreads. The website, ncov2019.live, has been visited by 12 million people since it launched in late December.

Computer whiz Avi Schiffmann, 17, spends much of his time these days constantly updating and improving the website, which automatically scrapes data from reliable sources from all over the world. The site, which originally updated every 10 minutes, now updates every minute to provide the latest statistics on the number of confirmed cases, serious cases, deaths and recovered — both worldwide and in each country — in real time. The site also hosts an interactive Google map, a Twitter feed, travel advisories, information on the disease and its prevention, as well as tips for preparing for quarantine situations.

“I started working on this project at Christmastime, when there were fewer than 1,000 confirmed cases — all in mainland China,” said Schiffmann, a high school junior. “It was hard to get clear, concise and accurate information on what was going on, and I wanted to do something to fix this.”

Schiffmann, who is working on a variety of different coding projects concurrently, decided to tackle this particular one primarily because it would enable him to learn web scraping technology.

“It would also be a way to help with global health, which is something that’s needed when not all governments are the nicest or transparent, and it is hard to get information,” he said.

Schiffmann’s website scrapes information from many different sources, including official government health organizations (local, national and international), and trustworthy news outlets. He relies on an online community of news curators to help with this. He also coded the website to crosscheck data to make sure it is accurate.

“It’s all automated, so I don’t have to input anything manually. The web scraper runs even when I’m sleeping,” he explained.

Planned improvements to ncov2019.live include regional statistical breakdowns, graphs comparing the COVID-19 outbreak to historical pandemics, a vaccine tracker and translation of the site to 30 different languages.

“I am getting 1,000 messages a day,” Schiffmann said. “Some are from people thanking me for the site, some are from media outlets reaching out for interviews, and many are from PhDs who have suggestions for information I could add.”

His parting shot at governments’ responses? “They are not transparent and are trying to save face, and then it is too late. The world needs to be much more prepared for these kinds of things.”

Times of Israel

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