Along with his concern for the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, Avi Schiffmann was concerned about the spread of misinformation. So the 17-year-old from just outside Seattle set out to make a website that pulls together the latest and most accurate data about the epidemic — and he’s heard from people around the world about how useful his effort has been.
Schiffmann, a junior at Mercer Island High School who is in the Running Start program at Bellevue College, first started working on his coronavirus information website — ncov2019.live — in early January when there were fewer than 1,000 confirmed cases and it hadn’t yet spread outside of China.
The site’s simple homepage consists of quick facts that are updated every 10 minutes, including total confirmed cases, total deaths, countries infected and more. A column lists the outbreak numbers for provinces and cities in China and another column breaks out data for other countries. An update on the site says a new column is coming that will list individual U.S. states, and also translate the information in more than 10 languages.
The site, which runs a script to automatically scrape a number of well-sourced sites for the latest data, has attracted more than 2 million unique visitors and gets as many as 300,000 returning visitors each day, setting record site numbers for past two weeks.
“I am spending most of my free time working on it,” Schiffmann told GeekWire via email on Monday. “I get about 100 emails a day for bug fixes, feature requests, that kind of thing, so I am always working on adding new things.”
The site also contains information on how to prepare if coronavirus impacts your area, how to prevent catching the virus, a map showing areas with cases, a Twitter feed of the latest alerts and breaking news, and more.
“My goal is to make the site the best place for information about the coronavirus, with multiple methods of getting data,” Schiffmann said. “When I first started I was viewing the whole epidemic as an outsider, and I never expected it to personally affect me,” he said, adding that the deaths and infections near Seattle have scared him a bit.
On his LinkedIn page, Schiffmann says he has “years of experience in web development, cross-platform mobile development, and UI and UX design using Adobe and similar tools” as well as “extensive knowledge of popular 3D modeling software.” He lists himself as the co-founder of a software company called Mojave as well as a volunteer with The Mars Society, which advocates for human exploration and settlement of Mars.
Schiffmann said he’s been coding since he was about 7 years old and he called the creation of the site an amazing learning experience. He said he’s gotten hundreds of messages from people all around the world, and a donation page has attracted 200 contributors.
The plan is to keep the site going for as long as possible and adapt over time depending on relevant information that can be displayed in a meaningful way. Schiffmann envisions a vaccine progress tracker or other information which can be displayed graphically.
It’s a lot to take on for a kid who is still in high school, taking college courses, going to hackathons and competing on a ski racing team. Schiffmann admits to being “very motivated” and spending 99 percent of his free time learning new technologies. He’s currently in the middle of “10 different big projects” and said his main goal is to make something incredible one day and to change the world by creating his own companies.
“My favorite quote is by Steve Jobs,” Schiffmann said. “‘Because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.’”
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