Young Bay Area data scientist projects COVID-19 deaths better than pandemic experts

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- For close to a year, statistics have helped to track the magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic. A young data scientist in the Bay Area has turned out to be one of the best at crunching the numbers.

Youyang Gu, a 27-year-old data scientist, created the website covid19-projections.com. It started generating attention because of its impressive accuracy.

"A lot of these models that were there during the early stages of the pandemic were not clear about the kind of the assumptions and the limitations," said Gu.

CORONAVIRUS DATA: Updated number of COVID-19 cases, deaths in San Francisco Bay Area

Normally based in New York, Gu found himself in lockdown while visiting his parents back home in Santa Clara, Calif. He was born in China, but his family came to the United States when he was 7 years old. He grew up in Palo Alto and attended Gunn High School.

His background was in analyzing finance, not pandemics. But what he created in just two days became his full-time passion. He crunched the latest numbers generated daily, not only for the U.S. and California, but also for 70 countries around the world.

"I've also been wrong many times, but I think it's about learning from your mistakes and being able to adjust to data and new information as they come in," he said.
At times, his trajectory of COVID deaths turned out to be far more accurate than projections from universities and health experts. Using real-time data, he said, was the key factor, along with stressing accuracy and transparency about underlying assumptions of his model.

"Once the website got a lot of attention," Gu said, "I just decided to devote my full attention to that for kind of the next few months, and I guess it's been almost a year now."

How long he'll continue depends on the pandemic. Compensation comes from donations on his website.

Gu tweeted this recently: "I can't think of many other countries where the work of an untrained 27-year-old immigrant can garner the attention and respect of researchers and public alike."

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