Teen who built popular coronavirus tracking website has COVID-19 and calls it ‘pretty terrible’

a person standing posing for the camera: Avi Schiffmann. (Instagram Photo via @avischiffmann)

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Avi Schiffmann. (Instagram Photo via @avischiffmann)

Avi Schiffmann, the Seattle-area teen who built a website to track the early and ongoing spread of coronavirus, has tested positive for COVID-19.

Schiffmann, 18, tweeted about his diagnosis on Monday evening and in an email to GeekWire said that he feels “quite bad.” He tested positive on Thursday and is quarantining at his family’s cabin along with his mother, a doctor who has also tested positive, according to Schiffmann.

“I had a bad headache and a sore throat, but it’s since progressed into a bad cough, shortness of breath (like it’s actually pretty hard to breath with a mask on) and somewhat feels like my lungs are on fire,” Schiffmann said. “Overall it’s pretty terrible. Hopefully it will give a message to other people my age who think we are all invincible. Because I really thought that, too.”


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Schiffmann said he has been taking the recommended precautions himself along the way — wearing a mask, avoiding close gatherings.

But despite all of his work building a tool to track the spread of the disease across the globe, watching the rate of infection and the death count climb higher over the past nine or 10 months, Schiffmann said the general consensus around his peers has still been that “it’s no big deal for us.”

“Everyone’s been saying the youth will be fine, tiny death rate, this that, but even if you don’t outright die, it can still have a plethora of lasting effects,” Schiffmann said, adding that while he thinks he’ll be OK, he’s concerned about potential issues such as lung scarring or vascular problems.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a September study that the coronavirus infection rate among adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 is “approximately double” that of younger children. CNBC reported on the findings, in which researchers found the average weekly incidence of COVID-19 in adolescents to be roughly 37 cases per 100,000 children.

“I can finally add myself to my site,” Schiffmann tweeted Monday.

Schiffmann started ncov2019.live in early January when he was still a junior at Mercer Island High School. At the time there were fewer than 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and it hadn’t yet spread outside of China.

He went on to attract international attention and many millions of visitors and page views with a mostly automated site built to track total confirmed cases, total deaths, countries infected and more.

He still manages the site, but it mostly runs itself. He’s coded in fail-safes to prevent the hassle of dealing with new problems on the site every day.

“There are a lot of things I wish I added, but as time goes on I personally have moved on to work on other things,” Schiffmann said. “But at any given time I could easily add new things. For example, I was thinking of adding something tracking all the government officials getting sick, back when that was a big deal.”

Schiffmann is spending time now working with his college counselor to finish remaining credits. While in high school he was also in the Running Start program at Bellevue College. He’s working on college applications, writing essays for those and “reflecting on everything,” he said, adding that he’s focused on getting better at web and app development.

“I have some ideas for simple projects like an app to help my friends quit vaping, or a platform to manage clubs,” he said. “But I am always jumping around a long list of ideas.”

Schiffmann admitted it’s a bit scary and ironic that he has fallen ill with the very thing he was so focused on helping people understand. But he sounds like he was resigned to a certain inevitability in that outcome.

“I do think that most people will likely get it eventually,” Schiffmann said. “The important part is everyone not getting it at once and overwhelming the hospitals. Flattening the curve, right?”

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