When Dr. Farzad Mostashari was the assistant commissioner for the New York City Department of Health in the early 2000s, he did something unprecedented.
To keep tabs on the spread of disease in the region, Mostashari asked New York hospitals for access to a feed of their data, including the symptoms reported by some of the sickest patients. His team put together a website that collected anonymized information from emergency rooms across the state, and made it open for anyone to query.
Nearly two decades later, on March 11, 2020, his work suddenly gained new relevance. The World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a global pandemic, and predicted that the SARS-CoV-2 virus could kill more than a million people worldwide.