(CNN)If the year 2020 is good for anything, it's the lesson that during a crisis, anyone who builds a better mousetrap will find the world beating a path to his door.
A humble team at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland reminded the world of late poet Ralph Waldo Emerson's phrase when they created a real time tracking map of coronavirus cases and deaths.
And the world came to their door. They report that the site, plus downloads of its data, hosts three to five billion interactions daily. By their measurement, interactions include uses of the public dashboard and requests from a separate website for the underlying data used by news outlets and others who design their own maps and graphics.
Government agencies, public health departments, the public and news outlets, including CNN, regularly rely on it for the latest updates on the confirmed cases, deaths and recoveries connected to this harrowing disease.
"We were collecting data on a new virus that nobody understood at a time [when] there was not a single web page dedicated to Covid-19 case count," said Lauren Gardner, the project's chief and an associate professor in, and codirector of, the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering.
From December 2019 to January 2020, Ensheng Dong, Gardner's first-year PhD student, heard from family in China who regularly reported how the outbreak was worsening and upending their lives. After passing an exam that cleared him to earn his PhD, tracking confirmed cases in China was what he wanted to tackle next.
On January 21, over coffee during a weekly research meeting, Dong proposed this idea to Gardner.
His background in spatial data visualization and Gardner's past in modeling infectious diseases converged to create the first iteration of the dashboard — which they finished that night and published the next day. The map's alarming red dots then reflected only 320 reported cases — mostly in China, the rest in Thailand, Japan and South Korea.