September 19, 2021

In Argentina, data freaks decipher pandemic figures

LETTER FROM BUENOS AIRES

The computer struggles, before warning: impossible to complete the extraction. The file online on the website of the Ministry of Health on contamination linked to the coronavirus in Argentina, much too large, got the better of the lambda device.

On the basis of raw data released by the government, hundreds of thousands of figures make up demanding Excel tables; to decipher them, you need a solid training in data processing, combined with epidemiological knowledge… a CV far removed from that of the general population.

There is indeed the official government page, “epidemiological information”. But it delivers a rigid and general picture, with basic information, in the face of a complex and evolving Covid-19 pandemic: how to visualize the rates of contamination by age group, over several months? Where to find the curve of deaths since the start of the health crisis, by province?

A void left by the state

The answer is elsewhere: on Twitter, on the daily and educational tables published by a handful of data freaks. Chemist, political scientist, engineer, accountant, senator: it is they who have been tracing and compiling, for more than a year, the progress of the coronavirus in Argentina and testify to the recent upsurge in cases. In total, the country has recorded more than 82,000 deaths.

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“I fill a void left by the State, there is nothing on the government site”, deplores Mauro Infantino, 40, computer engineer in Buenos Aires – @plenque on Twitter -, who developed the Covidstats site. “I started out of curiosity, and I keep updating every day because I like it, and by commitment”, reports the one who had to tame an unknown subject. “I know how to process data, but then you have to know how to communicate it, and then I am not an epidemiologist. “ It went from a confidential account, followed by less than a hundred people before the pandemic, to more than 12,000 subscribers. “At the beginning, I felt a lot of weight on my shoulders, I was afraid of making mistakes”, admits the data specialist.

With his more than 34,000 subscribers, Martín Barrionuevo, – @mmbarrionuevo on Twitter -, 45, senator from the province of Corrientes (North-East) for the Justicialist Party (the center-left presidential formation), also refers to its multiple daily charts. “I started in March [2020]. I was locked in my house [lors du premier confinement] and I wanted to make myself useful. I am an accountant and I love statistics ”, says the senator, who wished “Bring a federal light to the pandemic”, while the media gaze tends to focus on the great agglomeration of Buenos Aires, where a third of the 45 million Argentines live.

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