Applied XL, a data company launched through the Newlab Venture Studio program developing intelligent systems that track the health of people, places, and the planet, and STAT News, the Boston Globe’s sister publication focused on fast, deep, and tough-minded journalism about health, medicine, life sciences and the fast-moving business of making medicines, received the EPPY Award for Best Use of Data/Infographics with Under 1 Million Unique Monthly Visitors for their COVID-19 Tracker. The tracker is designed to help decision-makers and the general public make sense of the increasing outbreak-related data at the country, region/state, and county level. 

The tracker mines publicly available data as well as data from partner organizations, and combines them into a single dashboard, aggregating data from universities, research centers, and departments of health. Most recently, Applied XL and STAT partnered with the Center on Rural Innovation to deliver a County Preparedness Index, which compiles data on a range of factors—including the relative age of the population, the number of nearby hospital beds, and medical staffing levels—and assigns every county in the U.S. a score that signals their readiness to address the COVID-19 crisis.

Applied XL was created through the Newlab Venture Studio program. The Newlab Venture Studio builds impactful, scalable companies in partnership with experienced domain experts who have a distinct capacity to lead. Newlab provides the infrastructure, team, and network necessary to create resilient businesses that leverage transformative technology.

To develop the metrics, Applied XL took a journalistic approach to help users easily find meaning in the data presented on the tracker. At the same time they designed the tool to help other news organizations with their pandemic related reporting, including US News & World Report, Boston Globe, Business Insider and others.

“We are leveraging computational journalism approaches that combine data science and editorial insight to make sense of critical data points related to the pandemic. More than ever, objective information is crucial to navigate the current crisis,” said Francesco Marconi, co-founder of Applied XL.

Building on the success of the tracker, STAT and Applied XL hosted a virtual hackathon for data journalists, researchers and entrepreneurs to use the data from the trackers as well as from other sources including Foursquare and Narrativa to create new approaches for addressing information gaps in pandemic-related topics. Over 65 teams from around the world participated in this event. Goals for the event included understanding the pandemic’s impact across racial, gender, and socioeconomic lines, analyzing its spread in rural America, and modeling ways to ease social distancing limitations based on location data. Results spanned from machine learning models to predict the impact of opening cities, contact tracing apps to help understand the full extent of infections as well as tools to help public officials conduct public health diagnostics. These outputs provided a rich future feature set for expanding the tracker’s capabilities.