Abnormal Distributions COVID-19 Tracker

James Steele Howard, MD, MPH

Physician and Public Health Data Scientist

About Me

Hello! I’m James Steele Howard. I’ve got a background in Japanese language and lived and worked in Tokyo from 2008-2011. Deciding to take a change in career, I returned to the States to become EMT certified to try my hand at medicine. A few years later after completing premedical coursework I entered medical school at the University of Queensland School of Medicine in Brisbane, Australia, where I lived for two years completing the basic science portion of medical school. In 2017 I moved to New Orleans to complete my clinical rotations at Ochsner Hospital System and graduated in 2019 with an M.D.

After completing medical school, I opted to pursue a career in public health with the goal of working with larger populations than would have been possible as a practicing physician. I was accepted by Saint Louis University's College for Public Health and Social Justice as part of the Masters in Public Health (MPH) program with concentration in Biosecurity and Disaster Preparedness (BSDP) which I began full-time in the fall of 2019.

In the BSDP program I supplemented public health study with courses in geographic information systems (GIS) mapping, inferential/predictive modeling, and epidemiological data analysis, and computer automation. After the COVID-19 pandemic began, I focused personal projects on tracking and monitoring the progression of the disease. Examples of that work are linked below.

In the professional environment during the COVID-19 and MPOX pandemics I manged teams as the Integrated Data Team Deputy Lead for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene performing data engineering and analysis for both internal and external disseminaiton. In Louisiana I was a Program Coordinator part-time monitoring and evaluating public health initiatives and health disparities for Black communities in New Orleans through a Tulane university affiliated nonprofit and am currently employed by the Louisiana Office of Public Health as Data Modernization Initiative Lead where I provide system egineering and data architecture/engineering services to streamline data standardization and access.

Projects and Publications

Publication: Emerging Infectious Diseases (2023/10)

Racial and socioeconomic equity are crucial in a public health emergency response to ensure that resources and interventions are distributed in a way that does not perpetuate existing disparities. An equitable approach leads to more effective and inclusive strategies, ultimately improving outcomes for all communities. Racial and Socioeconomic Equity of Tecovirimat Treatment during 2022 Mpox Emergency, New York City, New York, USA explores the evidence surrounding these topics to better inform and prepare for future emergency responses. (Publication: Volume 29, Number 11—November 2023)

Link to Article: Early Release Link

Statistical Modeling Lesson Plans (2021/07)

In order to assist GIS students predominantly acquainted with Python over the R programming language, I curated a series of lesson plans as Python Jupyter Notebooks. Based on the influential text, An Introduction to Statistical Learning*, the plans harness the capabilities of StatsModels, Scikit-Learn, and various open-source GIS Python libraries. The project not only bridges the gap between theoretical concepts and practical application for data enthusiasts and researchers but also ingrains a GIS-focused approach within the broader spectrum of statistical learning. The four comprehensive lesson plans delve into pivotal topics, all through a GIS-centric lens.

GitHub Links to Notebooks:

  1. Multiple Linear Regression
  2. Multiple Logistic Regression Modeling
  3. Decision Trees
  4. Inferential Modeling for GIS Data Imputation

* Since the creation of these nobooks in 2021, a Python focused edition has been published.

Domestic Violence During COVID-19 (2022/05)

Domestic violence rates have increased across the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. To compare changes in the number of 911 calls during the pandemic for domestic violence in New Orleans, I created maps and plots to examine the trends in previous years and during the pandemic.

Map Link: New Orleans: 911 Calls - Domestic Violence

New Orleans Base Statistics Map (2021/02)

Social determinants of health help describe the conditions which may secondarially affect the health of a population. These can range from the conditions where people live, work, and play to their yearly income.

In order to monitor an evaluate these social determinants of health, I designed these maps to visually display some of the base statistics of the local communities and overall population of New Orleans.

Map Link: New Orleans Base Statistics

COVID-19 Vaccination Mapping (2021/01)

Understanding disparities is just as important as understanding where resources lie. This new map shows COVID-19 vaccination facilities (as of January 9th, 2021) and household vehicle access.

The purpose of this map is to provide a better understanding of vaccination locations in areas where transportation may be a potential barrier to vaccine access.

Map Link: COVID-19 Vaccinaiton and Vehicle Access

COVID-19 Testing Mapping (Late 2020)

Understanding where COVID-19 hotspots are in the most up to date fashion is essential for deploying testing services and public awareness campaigns. This mapping project reports high test counts by census tract to ensure limited resources are distributed to the areas in most need.

Maps Link: COVID-19 Census Tracts Weekly Case Totals

During 2020 I worked on mapping COVID-19 testing centers in New Orleans. The disparity in free testing centers is a concern for those in poverty areas and households without vehicle access.

Map Link: New Orleans Free COVID-19 Testing Disparity

Low Power Consumption Computers (2020/10)

In my spare time, Python coding has gained my interest. Low-powered and low-cost computing and data visualization may be the defining factors in the success of developing countries and communities. In an effort to begin to understand the potential of these technologies I created a weather display using a Raspberry Pi single board computer and an electronic paper display.

Photos and Code: GitHub Repository

Geospatial Science (2020/09)

Remote sensing and geospatial analysis is becoming increasingly important in the field of public health. To explore the ways with which to analyze this data, I created a completely free and open source Python script which uses the Landsat8 satellite data to create visualizations and GeoTIFF files for further analysis.

This image is an example of the script's calculation of near infrared composite on September 18th, 2020 during the Oregon/Washington forest fires. Areas in red have healthy vegetation.

Code and Information: GitHub Repository