Pandemic data is about to go sideways: The Atlantic

Data about COVID-19 tends to dip following weekends and holidays—not because fewer people are getting sick, but because the doctors’ offices and public health departments that administer tests and process paperwork are shorter-staffed or closed. I wrote about why any drops in the data right around Thanksgiving don’t signal a true decline in infections, for The Atlantic.

Tracking the spread of COVID-19

The COVID Tracking Project is a collaborative data journalism effort, launched by The Atlantic in March 2020, that is tracking COVID-19 cases, tests, hospitalizations, deaths, among other metrics, in the United States. CTP is powered by a massive group of volunteers who comb through U.S. state and territory health departments’ dashboard every day to record data in a central place; all data is freely available to the public. CTP’s work has been widely cited by major news outlets, health experts, and government officials.

As co-lead for Editorial, I help manage story flow, editorial process, and write and edit stories about trends in the data. Here’s some of our recent work:

• CTP weekly updates for October 1, September 24, and September 17
• Why CTP’s death count hasn’t hit 200,000

Access to telemedicine is hardest for those who need it most: WIRED

Telemedicine has largely moved online during the pandemic, but elderly people, who make up 25 percent of all medical appointments, are less likely to have internet access at home. In this story for WIRED, I talked to physicians and policy experts to find out how the healthcare industry is addressing the problem. Among the creative solutions being deployed: A physician in North Carolina, where the rate of broadband penetration is the lowest in the country, extended her office’s wifi network so it reached the parking lot. Her patients can drive to the office, park, and get a sanitized tablet from a staff member, and then conduct their visit from the car.

Mapping Vaccination Rates

For years I’ve been reporting on vaccination rates in public schools. In June I examined California’s latest data set and reported on how the state’s efforts to stop parents from skipping their kids’ vaccines just led parents to find another loophole to avoid the shots. At one school in rural California, two-thirds of kindergarteners received a medical exemption — essentially a doctor’s note stating their kids shouldn’t get vaccinations — that allowed them to skip immunizations.

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I also used a state database to plot immunization rates by zip code; click here for the bigger map.

This piece followed research I did for a WIRED print story about the measles outbreak in Brooklyn, for which I mapped vaccination rates nationwide and plotted the cities most at risk of a measles outbreak.

Guns in America, in 5 charts

Following mass shootings in Pittsburgh and Thousand Oaks, California, I once again dove into the data on Americans’ very unique relationship with guns. Among the stats: the US is the only rich nation to see so many citizens die from bullet wounds; two-thirds of gun deaths in the US come from suicides, US manufacturing of firearms has skyrocketed since Barack Obama was elected.

In the chart below, I plotted data about deaths per capita by country against GDP per capita for more than 100 nations. As you can see, the US stands alone.

Silicon Valley Daycares Still Have Vaccination Problems

In 2015 while browsing a huge database from the California Department of Public Health (like you do), I discovered that some of the daycares associated with large technology companies had dismal rates of vaccination among their students. The implication: That employees of said companies were not vaccinating their children.

I reported that story here and here. When new data for the 2015-2016 became available, I checked to see if immunization rates had improved and described the verdict here.

An Epidemic of Fear: The Aftermath

Wired, November 2009


In 2009 Wired published a brave piece by Amy Wallace entitled, “An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All.” The piece was hugely controversial — a year later, readers were still sending letters about it.

In the weeks following the story’s publication, Wired launched a blog, which I edited, providing some of the background reporting that didn’t make it into the story. A group of reporters also answered readers’ questions and covered news of a mumps epidemic in New York.

As the editor of Wired‘s letters section, I was also charged with condensing close to 1,000 reader responses into two pages in the print magazine. Read that letters section here. I discussed the challenges of editing that section in this Storyboard podcast.

Why Things Suck

Wired, February 2008


Journalists love to kvetch, so it’s no surprise that Wired published a cover package called “Why Things Suck.” The package, which I co-created, aimed to explain the scientific reasons that, for example, office printers jam or human knees fail. In addition to editing several pieces, I explained why your tomatoes taste terrible (short answer: because you’re eating them in February!) and why fertility treatments fail so often (short answer: gametes are fragile).