COVID-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project

COVID-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project Wins Innovations that Inspire Award

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in spring 2020, Carlson School faculty members turned to data to help inform the public about the severity of the virus across the country.

That's why the Carlson School’s COVID-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project was recognized by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) as a 2021 Innovations that Inspire award winner.

The COVID-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project is a collaborative effort between the two centers within the Carlson School: the Medical Industry Leadership Institute (MILI) and the Management Information Systems Research Center (MISRC). The project collects, tracks, and publicly reports daily COVID-19 hospitalizations from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The data has uncovered important insights that can help states and hospitals better manage infection rates and patient caseloads. 

The project was spearheaded by faculty members Pinar Karaca-Mandic, Soumya Sen, and Dr. Archelle Georgiou. Together with a team of PhD, undergraduate students, and staff members, the project has received significant attention from health officials and journalists around the country.

A year after starting the project, five people involved in the project shared what surprised them the most. 


Pinar Karaca-Mandic

Pinar Karaca-Mandic, C. Arthur Williams Jr. Professor in Healthcare Risk Management

The biggest surprise of the project was that in a short time period that we could actually get a team together, put our methodology together, recruit a bunch of University of Minnesota graduates and undergraduate students who were inspired by this idea of the need to collect hospitalizations data, and we could roll our project. The other important aspect of it is we had no idea what we were committing to, which is unusual for a research project. Usually, I have a timeline. Even when I submit grant proposals, I have a timeline, a three-year timeline or a five-year timeline.


Kim Choyke

Kim Choyke, MILI Program Administrator

One aspect that surprised me during the last year of the COVID-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project was how often we had to pivot throughout the project. There is not a standardized reporting process across states, so the team had to continuously adapt to changes in data and how they were reported by health departments. This included changes to available data from each state, how states measured and presented certain metrics, and where the data was located. Throughout the year, many health departments began reporting new metrics or stopped reporting other metrics resulting in changes to how we tracked and shared data. As more or less data becomes available, we have to shift how data is collected, make frequent updates to the website, and the dashboards continue to evolve. 


Zach Levin

Zach Levin, PhD Student

The most surprising thing to me has been just how difficult it can be to answer questions that seem like they should be simple. On first glance, you think the question "how many people are hospitalized for COVID?" is straightforward. Answering is not, however, as easy as it seems. Do you count people who are admitted to the hospital who are suspected of having COVID but have not gotten laboratory confirmation? The difference between that number and the number of confirmed cases can be meaningfully large at any given point in time. We've spent more time thinking about just defining the analytic variables than I would have predicted going into the project.


Khoa Vu

Khoa Vu, PhD Student

What surprised me most about the project is the amount of collaborative work behind the scene to collect and publish the daily hospitalization data at the state and sub-state levels. This is because states report data very differently in terms of reporting formats, definitions of COVID-related hospitalization, and even the times that states publish data. It requires a lot of coordination among the data collection team, especially the undergraduate research assistants, to get the data ready for the project's dashboard. It also requires constant data cleaning and debugging from the PhD students to ensure that the data are correct, and the dashboard runs smoothly.


Yi Zhu

Yi Zhu, PhD Student

When we launched the additional county-level dashboard in early December 2020, we got more than 20,000 visits in a single day, which is more than 10 percent of the approximate total of 200,000 website visits we had before that. In the following week, the visit to the website easily passed the total visit since the launch of the project in early spring 2020. The surge of the visits made the University of Minnesota tableau server crash, which only allows 1500 visits per day, and we had to move to a tableau public server to support our data visualization. The large volume of visits showed people's interest in our data and visualization, also showed our website is a credible source for COVID-19 hospitalizations. 


Project Racks up Media Coverage

The project, its related studies, and team members have been mentioned in thousands of articles across hundreds of media outlets in the past year. Based on an analysis of nearly 1,400 of these mentions, by AgilityPR—the Carlson School's earned media vendor—more than 250 were in publications with high reach/circulation, such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, and CNN. Another 30 percent of articles prominently featured the project. As a result of relationship building by project lead Pinar Karaca-Mandic, a weekly newsletter with the latest data analysis is shared with dozens of journalists, contributing to ongoing coverage of the pandemic.