The COVID-19 virus is a formidable global threat, impacting all aspects of society and exacerbating the existing inequities of our current social systems. As we battle the virus across multiple fronts, data are critical for understanding this disease and for coordinating an effective global response. Given the current digitisation of so many aspects of life, we are amassing data that can be extrapolated and analysed for the effective forecasting, prevention and treatment of COVID-19. With responsible stewardship, the tools and data-driven solutions currently in development for the COVID-19 pandemic will serve in the present while providing a much-needed foundation for a data-based response to future outbreaks and disasters.
In response to COVID-19, and using data generated thus far, groups at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts, Google Cloud, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) Innovations Group and Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians at BIDMC came together to host the MIT Challenge COVID-19 Datathon (COVID-19 Datathon) from 10–16 May 2020. A ‘datathon’ adopts the ‘hackathon’ model, with a focus on data and data science methodologies, which promotes collaboration, design thinking and problem solving. In a typical hackathon, participants with disparate but complementary backgrounds work together in small groups for a prescribed and intensive ‘sprint’, typically over the course of one weekend, to develop a new concept, product or business idea. Subject matter expert ‘mentors’’ oversee and advise the teams. At the conclusion of the event, the teams present to a panel of judges. Winners are selected and are typically awarded seed funding. Datathons differ from hackathons in that the output is data analysis. MIT Critical Data, one of the organising groups of the COVID-19 Datathon, has hosted 36 international healthcare datathons.