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“Landmark in survey research”: How the COVID States Project analyzed the pandemic with objectivity

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David Lazer ran into a fellow Northeastern University professor Alessandro Vespignani. It was February 2020. One month before the COVID-19 shutdowns.“I said, ‘Tell me: How bad is it going to be?’” says Lazer, University Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Computer Sciences at Northeastern. “And he laid out how bad it would be.” They were facing a life-changing event, warned Vespignani, director of the Network Science Institute and Sternberg Family Distinguished Professor at Northeastern. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was spreading fast throughout the U.S. and beyond just three months after its emergence in Wuhan, China.

“He talked about how things were going to shut down over the following month and how there was going to be an indefinite time of having to modify our lives in order to protect ourselves individually and collectively,” Lazer recalls of that conversation. “He really got the broad parameters spot on. “I obviously was quite distressed. I was thinking, ‘What can I do to contribute to the moment?’”

The answer would become known as the COVID States Project, a Northeastern-led effort by four universities that would analyze newly collected data in order to make sense of the evolving and volatile COVID-19 pandemic. Over the next four years the project would put out more than 100 reports—all relevant to urgent issues—that were reflected by media coverage across the country. Sharing their expertise across a variety of fields—computational social science, network science, public opinion polling, epidemiology, public health, psychiatry, communication and political science—the researchers framed and conducted surveys that enabled them to identify national and regional trends that influenced (and were influenced by) the spread of the virus.

Read more at Northeastern Global News.

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