NYC Chief Data Scientist on Emergency Response to COVID-19

This episode of The Vaccine Challenge is hosted by Priyanka Asera and features Jaimie Shaff. Jamie Shaff is the Chief Data Scientist of the New York department of Health and Mental Hygiene as well as a member of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Task Force. Jaimie has assisted various emergency responses in India, Africa prior to this for health and refugee crisis. Jaimie is an epidemiologist and is pursuing a PhD in Health Equity and Social Justice at Johns Hopkins. In this podcast Jaimie answers how her department reacted to all of the challenges as they were developing, the role that data had to play in orchestrating the response and how did the department address all other issues arising from the pandemic within the communities in New York. She also answers how emergency departments across the world share knowledge amongst each other so that we are better prepared collectively next time around.

SUMMARY OF THE PODCAST INTERVIEW

Could you describe the scope of work you do?

  • We lead the health response for the emergency in New York City in particular an emergency response group called the Integrated Data Team
  • Our role is to ensure the agency and response leadership have access to accurate and timely information to make decisions
  • Generally, our work is to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 in New York City

What kind of data do you rely on to make the right real-time decisions especially when New York was facing its second wave last year?

  • Data in this response has been one of the most interesting evolutions. We started with very little data available and were trying to find anything that we could to inform the response.
  • At this stage there is access to incredibly rich data across all over the world which helps in a great way. The public health laboratories and the epidemiology department have done a tremendous job by bringing in data on COVID-19.
  • It includes data on testing, hospitalisations and deaths. It also included confirmed cases, probable cases which were very important data that helped in the process.

What kinds of number and models do you track outside of New York and outside the United States and how does that happen?

  • The process has eventually evolved with time. Initially we had very little data coming from scientific colleagues in China and South Korea and as the outbreaks made their way to Europe we started getting data about the impacts in Italy, Spain, etc.
  • The most important data point at the very beginning was about the case fatality rate. In the winter of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 COVID was seen as a bad flu and later did we realize its severity looking at the fatality rate from all over the world.
  • Now, we are tracking the variants in different countries, their impacts and the way that they are behaving and also on the efficacy of the different vaccines.

What do you think happens to data ownership when it comes to a situation like this?

  • Our unit does not focus on the academic part and we really try to get as much as data put there as possible that it helps everyone while also ensuring that it is as correct as it can be.
  • Other colleagues maybe more focused on academic publications. Making sure that folks are included in publications is as important as sharing data. We have seen some really great academic and non-academic partnerships.
  • Generally, it is an emergency and at some level we have to inform to the public that we have the data that we need to inform the response at the same time we have to protect patient privacy which is a really critical piece that we do.

Were there any policy decisions that were to be made by the task force?

  • So many decisions were to be made by the task force. In the beginning, conversations about closing schools, implementing state home orders, about mandating testing in different venues for different populations of people.
  • As we started to reopen we had to think about capacity limits for indoor settings, face covering requirements, etc.
  • Now it is a lot related to vaccination like who is eligible to get vaccinated, how the vaccine will be distributed, what population which receive the vaccine first, etc. There are a number of policy decisions that are complicated and complex. Yet it has been a very interesting and evolving conversation from a policy perspective.

What are the top reasons why you people may not have gotten vaccinated yet?

  • As public health professionals we have to make sure that the people have all the information that they need. In general there is so much misinformation out there.
  • It is difficult to be confident in a vaccine that is relatively new and it literally our job to make sure we are getting the right information to the people and help them make an informed decision about their vaccine choices.
  • People think about missing work due to the side effects or the after effects of the vaccine and not everyone get a paid sick leave which is a very basic issue.
  • We have to make sure that the people know all information like the available providers, times at which vaccines are provided, the side effects of the vaccine and why they should get vaccinated.

ABOUT JAIMIE

Jaimie Shaff is the Chief Data Scientist of the New York city department of Health and Mental Hygiene as well as a member of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Task Force. She had come to the domestic public health sector after serving a humanitarian c areer where her work was with international NGOs working on humanitarian emergencies ranging from malnutrition to infectious diseases outbreaks to refugee crises and food emergencies. All of her experiences with the humanitarian sector helped develop the skills and mindset to work in the public health sector. Jaimie has assisted various emergency responses in India, Africa prior to this for health and refugee crisis. Jamie is an epidemiologist and is pursuing a PhD in Health Equity and Social Justice at Johns Hopkins.