The Need for a Federal Published API on Infectious Disease Outbreaks and Locations

One takeaway of the Coronavirus epidemic is how fast misinformation spreads. To combat this we need to take a hard look at how we can better use open data initiatives by the federal government to present factual data with reliable sources in real-time.

In the early days of the Coronavirus – only about a month ago – we wanted to give our global employees a webpage so they could track any confirmed cases near their homes and offices. So we took some of the data feeds that Johns Hopkins put together and created our Coronavirus dashboard hosted in

The link can be found here:

The result is a tracker where you could search by country or US state and get up-to-the-hour results of current cases like the below picture:

But we had one problem – there was no authentic, consistent data source published from the US government. Yes, there are web pages set up at places like NIH and CDC where humans can go and view data, but there is no machine data API that publishes the data. Instead, Johns Hopkins University was manually collecting data from multiple sources and publishing it into a Google Doc, where then others were turning into data feeds. Because there was human intervention in publishing this data, one day the data format changed suddenly. Instead of providing a city-by-city listing of confirmed cases, the data went to just showing overall state totals. This small change made a huge difference because one morning we looked and could no longer drill down at the city level to see where cases were growing.

While the NIH’s National Library of Medicine has posted the full genome sequence as a publicly available download, there is no such data source for listing of all available cases, tests, deaths, and recoveries.

This lack of transparency, lack of consistency, and lack of authoritative health data API is just not acceptable in 2020. The government can do better. We should create a federal infectious disease healthcare API from NIH so citizen data scientists can go to work with new machine learning analytics tools and create new and innovative data models and visualizations relevant to their audience.

By creating a proper real-time infectious disease API backed by the federal government with data consolidated from the states, we can create transparency, reduce misinformation and bring to bear thousands of citizen data scientists to innovate on the subject.