Health Affairs: “The scale and diffuse impact of the global 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is unprecedented in our lifetime. As of October 23, 2020, less than a year into the pandemic, there have been more than 41.7 million cases and more than one million deaths globally. Without a vaccine or widespread treatment access, the primary population-focused COVID-19 mitigation strategies are behavioral interventions such as restricting population mobility and encouraging good hygiene such as wearing facial coverings and washing hands frequently. There is one tool for the COVID-19 response that was not as robust in past pandemics: open data. For about 15 years, a “quiet open data revolution” has led to the widespread availability of governmental data that are publicly accessible, available in multiple formats, free of charge, and with unlimited use and distribution rights. The underlying logic of open data’s value is that diverse users including researchers, practitioners, journalists, application developers, entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders will synthesize the data in novel ways to develop new insights and applications. Specific products have included providing the public with information about their providers and health care facilities, spotlighting issues such as high variation in the cost of medical procedures between facilities, and integrating food safety inspection reports into Yelp to help the public make informed decisions about where to dine. It is believed that these activities will in turn empower health care consumers and improve population health.
Here, we describe several use cases whereby open data have already been used globally in the COVID-19 response. We highlight major challenges to using these data and provide recommendations on how to foster a robust open data ecosystem to ensure that open data can be leveraged in both this pandemic and future public health emergencies…”