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'Data is useless unless you find a way to communicate' | New website for COVID-19 data in DC schools

A data scientist took it upon himself to create a new tool for parents, and it's being shared as DCPS prepares to reopen for in-person learning.

WASHINGTON — As DC Public Schools plan to open their doors to in-person learning in 2021, there is a new tool parents are sharing about COVID-19 data, but it doesn’t exactly come from an official source. 

"D.C. releases tons of data and it's really impressive," Ryan Stahlin, a data scientist, said. 

DC Health makes COVID-19 data available to residents on the city's official site and on a separate health statistics data spreadsheet. But trying to make sense of all the numbers can be a little confusing.

“Data is useless unless you can find a way to communicate it effectively to people,” Stahlin said. 

So the data scientist took it upon himself to gather COVID-19 data and create a website where all the data is compiled in a clear, “user-friendly manner.”  He called it his “pandemic hobby." But Stahlin admits even he had trouble weeding through nearly 700 pages of data and bouncing between two sites to get what he needed. 

“So, it must be difficult for people who don't do this sort of thing for a living to follow as well,” he said. 

Stahlin said he especially feels for parents trying to decide if it's safe to send their children back to DC Public Schools, which are set to open for in-person learning after the winter break. For more than a month now, children have been learning virtually in what DCPS calls CARES classrooms.

Stahlin created a map on his website with a cluster of green, red, and yellow dots. The green dots represent all DCPS Schools. Ten red dots on the map indicated the schools with reported positive cases. Four yellow dots are schools that did not shut down their CARES classrooms. 

According to Stahlin, that information can be found on D.C.'s official site, but it's not easily accessible. 

WUSA9 reached out to DC Health about the school data, but did not hear back. DCPS said if someone tests positive, they notify people who may have been exposed and should quarantine as a result. 

“I don't really have skin in the game here," Stahlin said. "I'm not a parent, I'm not a teacher.  I just want to make sure that the conversation around school reopening is as enriched as possible with what we are actually seeing in our district so we can understand better, what is happening on the ground. I think that's the most important takeaway is to look at everything in context.”

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