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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Meet the Missouri Dad Tracking COVID-19 in Every County

Posted By on Tue, Jun 16, 2020 at 6:40 AM

click to enlarge An illustration of COVID-19. - CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL
  • CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL
  • An illustration of COVID-19.


Matthew Holloway is a busy man these days. By day, he works full time as an employment services manager in Joplin. He is also the father of two young children, including a daughter born just five days ago.



But none of those things have kept him from devoting countless hours to his Facebook page, a labor of love that he has turned into the most complete tracking of COVID-19 infections and deaths for each of Missouri's 114 counties, plus two other jurisdictions, including St. Louis.

Holloway has been working tirelessly to provide, as much as possible, real time updates on where new infections and deaths related to the coronavirus are being reported. He  bases his updates on data pulled from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and local county health departments.

His Facebook page provides a daily running total of new infections and deaths, as well as cumulative totals in both categories. As of early Monday afternoon, Missouri has reported 16,543 infections — including 108 since Sunday — and 984 deaths. He also provides a series of highly detailed maps showing infection hot spots, as well as charts and diagrams that show daily updated infection averages.

In a text messages and a phone interview, Holloway tells the RFT how he got started. He began the project a few months ago, when DHSS provided only a small table on their website with the name of the county on one side and the total number of cases on the other side.

"For several years, I have secretly been obsessed with data visualization, and since the state wasn't really offering it at the time, I decided to try to do it myself," he writes. "As time progressed, the data they started sharing became more of a visualization piece."

Holloway says he has gained "overwhelming admiration" for public health care workers and health departments across the state.

"I genuinely believe they have conducted themselves at a level beyond the highest possible expectation anyone could have set prior to the COVID-19 outbreak," Holloway writes.

St. Louis and St. Louis County have helped provide a model for how communities should be releasing information, he says.

"I really appreciate the St. Louis Metropolitan COVID-19 task force that they've put together," Holloway says. "Just daily communication to the public and just being able to answer questions. I just think it's a model for how different areas across the U.S. and the state can communicate efficiently and effectively with everybody that lives in the area."

As for state resources, however, Holloway's assessment is less flattering.

Holloway writes that he has been "been frustrated with the clarity of information they have communicated, and by the amount of things withheld. At the same time, I understand that they were thrust into a role where people wanted data in real-time, and I understand that historically, this is not really what they do."

One of the biggest mistakes DHSS made was cutting off local officials from receiving information on positive cases within their respective counties or jurisdictions, according to Holloway.

"From my perspective (which is based on immersing myself in the data and the collecting process, as well as frequently communicating with health officials across the state)" he writes, "the state level completely left the local officials in the dark, and we literally went over a month without anyone actually knowing what was going on in their counties."

Holloway also worries about time lag between the numbers that county health departments post individually and the numbers posted on the DHSS website, which usually under-reports the true number of cases statewide because of a time lag of at least three days.

"I do worry that individuals here locally and across the state have referenced these numbers and said, 'Well, there's only this many cases here,'" he says.

Lag times of three days or even week before numbers are posted on the DHSS site could affect how people "decide if they're going to take any additional preventive measures as far as the virus is concerned."

Another thing that concerns Holloway is how so many Missourians could've rejected the conclusions of science regarding whether to follow such preventive measures as social distancing and the wearing of face masks.

"Certainly I think that people have adjusted their perspective or their communication about what's going on based on in some instances their personal agendas or ideologies," he says.

A request to DHSS for comment on Monday was not returned.

Editor's note: This story was updated after publication with additional comments.
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