Dr. Jason Salemi’s goal to stop COVID-19 misinformation leads to a $20,000 donation

| Academic & Student Affairs, COPH Home Page Feed, COPH Office of Research, Featured News, Monday Letter, Our Accolades, Our Research

Like so many other Floridians, early in the pandemic, I turned to Florida Department of Health’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard for complete, accurate, and timely information. But I very quickly noticed that it was difficult to satisfy my increasingly specific questions about those impacted by COVID-19 by person, place, and time. So, I dug for information. And dug. And dug,” said USF College of Public Health associate professor, Dr. Jason Salemi.

Ultimately, Salemi said he found a myriad of data sources that were made available, but at the time, not in a way that was optimally useful to the public. He also noticed the spread of myths and COVID-19 misinformation, in part due to the misrepresentation of COVID-19 data, so he decided to compile and share the data in a way that was easy to understand in an effort to provide “reliable information and continually set the record straight.”

Dr. Jason Salemi, USF College of Public Health associate professor of epidemiology, and his son Gabriel masking up during a grocery run in October. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Jason Salemi)

His efforts led to the creation of a YouTube playlist to explain particularly confusing topics like test positivity metrics—and his COVID-19 dashboard was born.

Salemi’s dashboard provides visualizations that offers two things he felt was lacking in existing dashboards. “First, I wanted to offer full drilldown capability—if you wanted to know trends in COVID-19 cases in women, 65 or older, in Hillsborough County, you could find that out. Second, I wanted every visualization to provide easy-to-understand pop-up boxes that would explain the information being displayed,” he said.

In addition to an emphasis on Florida-centric data, Dr. Jason Salemi’s dashboard incorporates current COVID-19 hospitalization data from the US Department of Health and Human Services to place counts and rates in Florida in context nationally. (Graphic courtesy of Dr. Jason Salemi)

“One of the biggest challenges to date is that all of this work has been unfunded,” he said. “Despite automating many of the tasks, the compilation of the 20 or so datasets, quality control, uploading, and verification of information takes at least 2 hours daily, 7 days per week.”

His dedication to preparing meaningful threads on Twitter for things that are confusing to people, like his primer on diagnostic testing, takes up many more hours per week.

However, Jason Kuhn, Founder of Kuhn Capital recently reached out to Salemi to learn more about his story and his efforts during COVID-19.

“He insisted that the service I provided would be needed for some time to come, and that a massive effort like this should not be done alone,” Salemi said.

Kuhn, a known philanthropist in the community, recently made a generous donation of $20,000 to the USF Foundation to support the purchase of software and hiring someone to help maintain and grow this now trusted resource to track COVID-19 in Florida.

“The journey thus far has exposed me to the most vitriolic environments I’ve ever witnessed professionally. Science and scientists have been under attack. But at the same time, I’ve also met tireless, passionate, and benevolent people across the country, generous with their time; generous with their expertise; generous with their money. Mr. Kuhn’s donation, and just the fact that he finds value it what I’m trying to do for people, well it’s incredibly humbling. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to the much-needed help this donation is going to afford me! I’m extremely grateful and blessed,” Salemi said.

Dr. Jason Salemi, USF College of Public Health associate professor of epidemiology, has been a consistent source of reliable information on COVID-19 in Florida and has conducted more than 26 on-camera interviews with outlets including CNN. (Photos courtesy of Dr. Jason Salemi)

In addition to providing numerous local and national on-camera interviews, Salemi also been asked to serve as a scientific consultant. Most recently he consulted the Superintendent of Brevard Public Schools Dr. Mark Mullins and the Brevard County School Board. Salemi answered questions ranging from reliable metrics to monitor to assess community spread of SARS-CoV-2, to whether, when, and how to modify mitigation strategies (e.g., letting young children enjoy recess on outdoor playground equipment) as spread worsens or improves over time.

Through sharing of this data through word of mouth and his Twitter account , he has very quickly caught the attention of the national COVID Tracking Project and became a trusted resource for COVID-19 data.

“This is it. This is the call to service. The public has always needed us, but we’ve often been behind the scenes. Now they need us front and center. Battling misinformation. Defending science. Being humble, trusted sources of information. If not now…when?” Salemi said.

Related Media:

CNN Right Now with Breanna Keilar

COVID-19 possibly striking more children than expected