Author Archives: Mollie Javerbaum

This researcher is tracking COVID with help from Google

A research team at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) has been working to make epidemiological forecasting as universal as weather forecasting. When COVID hit, they launched COVIDcast to develop data monitoring and forecasting resources that can help public health officials, researchers, and the public make informed decisions. 

Last month, CMU received $1 million from and a team of thirteen Fellows to work pro bono for six months to help continue building out COVIDcast. This was part of’s $100 million commitment to COVID relief

We caught up with Ryan Tibshirani, a research lead at CMU, to learn more about the project and what the fellows will work on. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.  

I'm a faculty member at CMU, jointly appointed in Statistics and Machine Learning, and I’m very interested in epidemiological forecasting and tracking. In 2012, I cofounded Delphi centered on this topic with Roni Rosenfeld, Professor and Head of Machine Learning at CMU.  

What do you focus on most these days?

Since the pandemic began I’ve  spent all of my time on COVID-19 research. Delphi has quadrupled the number of researchers in just eight months and we’re laser-focused on COVID. Leading Delphi's pandemic response effort has been both a challenge—I've never done anything like this before—and a joy—the group is full of amazing people. 

How did you come up with the idea for COVIDcast? 

To back up just a bit: Roni and I formed Delphi in 2012 with the goal to develop the theory and practice of epidemiological forecasting, primarily for seasonal influenza in the U.S. We want this technology to become as universally accepted and useful as today’s weather forecasting. 

Our forecasting system has been a top performer at the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) annual forecasting challenges, and last year Delphi Group was named one of the two Centers of Excellence for Influenza Forecasting. I like to think of COVIDcast as a replica of what we’ve done for the flu but better and faster.

Break it down for us, what is COVIDcast?

The COVIDcast project is about building and providing an ecosystem for COVID-19 tracking and forecasting. Our aim is to support informed decision-making at federal, state, and local levels of government, in the healthcare sector, and beyond. 

The project has many parts: 

  • Unique relationships with tech and healthcare partners that give us access to data with different views of pandemic activity in the U.S;

  • Code and infrastructure to build new, geographically-detailed, continuously-updated COVID-19 indicators;

  • A historical database of all indicators, including revision tracking;

  • A public API that serves new indicators daily, along with interactive maps and graphics to display them;

  • And lastly, modeling work that builds on the indicators to improve nowcasting and forecasting the spread of COVID-19.

A key element of COVIDcast is that we make all of our work as open and accessible as possible to other researchers and the public to help amplify its impact. We share both our data and a range of software tools—from data processing and visualization to sophisticated statistical tools. 

How will the funding and fellowship help?

This support will help Delphi expand our efforts to provide a geographically-detailed view of various aspects of the pandemic and to develop an early warning system for health officials, for example, when the number of cases in a locale are expected to rise. There will be more pandemics and epidemics after COVID-19. We want to be prepared, and we believe Delphi's work can help us do that. 

The Fellowship just kicked off. What are you most excited about?  

Everything! We're excited to embed all the Fellows—engineers, user experience designers and researchers, program and product managers—into our workstreams. We hope they can help accelerate our progress and introduce us to leading industry product and software development techniques. Each and every one of the fellows has special skills that will be put to good use. We can't wait to see what we can achieve, together. 

More broadly, what role does the tech sector play in COVID-19 response efforts? 

An enormous role. The tech sector is uniquely positioned to provide data and platforms that even governments can't provide. It also has the skills and experience to quickly assemble large-scale systems, in real time. Google has been extraordinarily helpful to us on all of these fronts.

Google supports COVID-19 AI and data analytics projects

Nonprofits, universities and other academic institutions around the world are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics to help us better understand COVID-19 and its impact on communities—especially vulnerable populations and healthcare workers. To support this work, is giving more than $8.5 million to 31 organizations around the world to aid in COVID-19 response. Three of these organizations will also receive the pro-bono support of Fellowship teams

This funding is part of’s $100 million commitment to COVID-19 relief and focuses on four key areas where new information and action is needed to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

Monitoring and forecasting disease spread

Understanding the spread of COVID-19 is critical to informing public health decisions and lessening its impact on communities. We’re supporting the development of data platforms to help model disease and projects that explore the use of diverse public datasets to more accurately predict the spread of the virus.

Improving health equity and minimizing secondary effects of the pandemic

COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on vulnerable populations. To address health disparities and drive equitable outcomes, we’re supporting efforts to map the social and environmental drivers of COVID-19 impact, such as race, ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic status. In addition to learning more about the immediate health effects of COVID-19, we’re also supporting work that seeks to better understand and reduce the long-term, indirect effects of the virus—ranging from challenges with mental health to delays in preventive care.

Slowing transmission by advancing the science of contact tracing and environmental sensing

Contact tracing is a valuable tool to slow the spread of disease. Public health officials around the world are using digital tools to help with contact tracing. is supporting projects that advance science in this important area, including research investigating how to improve exposure risk assessments while preserving privacy and security. We’re also supporting related research to understand how COVID-19 might spread in public spaces, like transit systems.

Supporting healthcare workers

Whether it’s working to meet the increased demand for acute patient care, adapting to rapidly changing protocols or navigating personal mental and physical wellbeing, healthcare workers face complex challenges on the frontlines. We’re supporting organizations that are focused on helping healthcare workers quickly adopt new protocols, deliver more efficient care, and better serve vulnerable populations. 

Together, these organizations are helping make the community’s response to the pandemic more advanced and inclusive, and we’re proud to support these efforts. You can find information about the organizations is supporting below.  

Monitoring and forecasting disease spread

  • Carnegie Mellon University*: informing public health officials with interactive maps that display real-time COVID-19 data from sources such as web surveys and other publicly-available data.

  • Keio University: investigating the reliability of large-scale surveys in helping model the spread of COVID-19.

  • University College London:modeling the prevalence of COVID-19 and understanding its impact using publicly-available aggregated, anonymized search trends data.  

  • Boston Children's Hospital, Oxford University, Northeastern University*: building a platform to support accurate and trusted public health data for researchers, public health officials and citizens.

  • Tel Aviv University: developing simulation models using synthetic data to investigate the spread of COVID-19 in Israel.

  • Kampala International University, Stanford University, Leiden University, GO FAIR: implementing data sharing standards and platforms for disease modeling for institutions across Uganda, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, Tunisia and Zimbabwe. 

Improving health equity and minimizing secondary effects of the pandemic 

  • Morehouse School of Medicine’s Satcher Health Leadership Institute*: developing an interactive, public-facing COVID-19 Health Equity Tracker of the United States. 

  • Florida A&M University, Shaw University: examining structural social determinants of health and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in communities of color in Florida and North Carolina.

  • Boston University School of Public Health:investigating the drivers of racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in the causes and consequences of COVID-19, with a focus on Massachusetts.

  • University of North Carolina, Vanderbilt University:investigating molecular mechanisms underlying susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 and variability in COVID-19 outcomes in Hispanic/Latinx populations. 

  • Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: quantifying the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare not directly associated with the virus, such as delayed routine or preventative care.

  • Georgia Institute of Technology:investigating opportunities for vulnerable populations to find information related to COVID-19. 

  • Cornell Tech:developing digital tools and resources for advocates and survivors of intimate partner violence during COVID-19. 

  • University of Michigan School of Information: evaluating health equity impacts of the rapid virtualization of primary healthcare. 

  • Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar: modeling the impact of air pollution on COVID-related secondary health exacerbations. 

  • Cornell University, EURECOM:developing scalable and explainable methods for verifying claims and identifying misinformation about COVID-19.

Slowing transmission by advancing the science of contact tracing and environmental sensing

  • Arizona State University:applying federated analytics (a state-of-the-art, privacy-preserving analytic technique) to contact tracing, including an on-campus pilot.

  • Stanford University:applying sparse secure aggregation to detect emerging hotspots.

  • University of Virginia, Princeton University, University of Maryland:designing and analyzing effective digital contact tracing methods. 

  • University of Washington: investigating environmental SARS-CoV-2 detection and filtration methods in bus lines and other public spaces. 

  • Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru:mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in India’s transit systems with rapid testing and modified commuter patterns. 

  • TU Berlin, University of Luxembourg:using quantum mechanics and machine learning to understand the binding of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to human cells—a key process in COVID-19 infection.

Supporting healthcare workers 

  • Medic Mobile, Dimagi: developing data analytics tools to support frontline health workers in countries such as India and Kenya.

  • Global Strategies:developing software to support healthcare workers adopting COVID-19 protocols in underserved, rural populations in the U.S., including Native American communities. 

  • C Minds:creating an open-source, AI-based support system for clinical trials related to COVID-19.  

  • Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein:supporting and integrating community health workers and volunteers to help deliver mental health services and monitor outcomes in one of Brazil's most vulnerable communities.

  • Fiocruz Bahia, Federal University of Bahia:establishing an AI platform for research and information-sharing related to COVID-19 in Brazil.

  • RAD-AID:creating and managing a data lake for institutions in low- and middle-income countries to pool anonymized data and access AI tools.  

  • Yonsei University College of Medicine: scaling and distributing decision support systems for patients and doctors to better predict hospitalization and intensive care needs due to COVID-19.

  • University of California Berkeley and Gladstone Institutes: developing rapid at-home CRISPR-based COVID-19 diagnostic tests using cell phone technology. 

  • Fondazione Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia:enabling open-source access to anonymized COVID-19 chest X-ray and clinical data, and researching image analysis for early diagnosis and prognosis.

*Recipient of a Fellowship