As health organizations around the world try to shut down the spread of the virulent coronavirus that has killed more than 800 people in China, a group of computer science majors who were high school friends has developed a website to track reported cases worldwide.
Trackcorona.live is the creation of University of Virginia undergraduates James Yun and Soukarya Ghosh; Bilguunzaya Battogtokh, of Stanford University; and Austin Stout, of Virginia Tech. The four are friends from Arlington’s Yorktown High School.
The website features tables and charts updated with real-time data, including recovery and mortality rates and interactive maps detailing the virus’ travels by country and city.
“Our intention was to inform people about the growing spread of the virus,” Yun explained. “This way, people can track the infection rates in real time, as well as hone into specific geographic hotspots using our interactive map. With the amount of attention the virus has gotten, we think it’s important to equip people with the right tool to monitor the situation.”
According to the tracker, there are a dozen cases of the virus reported in the United States, with no deaths as of Sunday evening. There have been more than 37,000 cases reported in 25 countries with 814 deaths reported. All but one of those deaths occurred in China, with the other being reported in the Philippines.
“There are lot of students at UVa and other universities who travel a lot, and this way, they can see where the virus is spreading and where it’s active,” Yun said. “They will be better able to assess their risk levels, depending on where they’re traveling to.”
Yun said his friends have discussed their website on Reddit and are using the feedback they’ve received to add features.
“We are currently working on a medical information page to inform the public about the nature of the virus and preventative measures they can take,” he said. “It’s going to change as we get more ideas and figure out how to make things work.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, the virus was first reported in the city of Wuhan in Hubei Province in China. A betacoronavirus, it’s the same genus as the viruses that created Severe Acute Respirator Syndrome in 2003 and Middle East Respirator Syndrome in 2012. The viruses originate in animals.
“Both MERS and SARS have been known to cause severe illness in people,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website stated in a Feb. 7 update. “The complete clinical picture with regard to [coronavirus] is not fully understood. Reported illnesses have ranged from mild to severe, including resulting in death.”
Symptoms of coronavirus, according to the CDC, include fever, cough and shortness of breath. They may appear anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure.
The first case of the virus being transmitted from one person to another in the United States was reported on Jan. 30, according to the NIH. Confirmed cases have been reported in California, Washington, Arizona, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Illinois.
Six potential cases have been reported in Virginia as of Sunday evening, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Five of those cases tested negative for the virus; one test of a person in Northern Virginia remains pending.
On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization’s emergency committee declared the virus a “public health emergency of international concern.”
“All countries should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread,” committee officials said in the declaration. “The committee believes that it is still possible to interrupt virus spread.”
The committee also recommended that countries not restrict travel or trade based on the available information about the virus.
That hasn’t happened. Australia, Hong Kong, Philippines, India, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Great Britain and Vietnam have restricted travel to and from China.
On Jan. 31, the U.S. also restricted travel to and from China for non-citizens.
“The Centers for Disease Control, along with state and local health departments, has limited resources and the public health system could be overwhelmed if sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus occurred in the United States,” the proclamation restricting travel, signed by President Donald Trump, states. “Sustained human-to-human transmission has the potential to have cascading public health, economic, national security and societal consequences.”
The proclamation noted that in 2019, an average of 14,000 people a day traveled to the United States from China.
“[The government] is unable to effectively evaluate and monitor all of the travelers continuing to arrive from China,” the proclamation states. “The potential for widespread transmission of the virus by infected individuals seeking to enter the United States threatens the security of our transportation system and infrastructure and the national security.”
The proclamation also called for orderly medical screening and possible quarantine of persons entering the United States who may have been exposed to this virus.
While governments react to the outbreak, Yun said trackcorona.live will provide the most up-to-date information possible. The site uses software that scrapes information from primary sources in China and across the world. It also accesses news sites to provide immediate updates from worldwide sources.
“We’re also trying to get data state by state and finding other sources,” he said. “There will be more changes to the site as things go along.”
For the quartet, the site has been a way to put their education into practice.
“We went to the same high school and we’ve been friends for a long time. This started out as a fun project, but it turned into the site it is today,” he said. “We’re working on it between classes and before and after class. We’re putting our knowledge into practice. It’s been a great learning experience.”