Tracking a unique coronavirus data point: our feelings

Ridership on the subway in New York City has plunged as the coronavirus pandemic has worsened.
Ridership on the subway in New York City has plunged as the coronavirus pandemic has worsened.
Erik Pendzich/Shutterstock
New York City is getting its 24-hour subway back May 17 after a one-year shutdown.

Tracking a unique coronavirus data point: our feelings

In a partnership with data analytics firm Elucd, City & State will publish daily updates on coronavirus sentiment polling of New Yorkers.
March 23, 2020

Can you remember a time before coronavirus? Our lives have changed dramatically in a matter of weeks, as the coronavirus outbreak has been certified as a pandemic and New York has gone from a bustling state to one effectively sheltered in place. As new information floods in everyday from public health experts and government officials, our feelings about the seriousness of the pandemic or who we trust to provide reliable information about coronavirus can shift in days.

Now, a technology company has started tracking our attitudes about these matters in an attempt to give governments a better idea of how its citizens are responding to the crisis. Elucd, a Brooklyn-based data analytics company that has partnered with the New York Police Department on projects like tracking how safe New Yorkers feel in their neighborhoods, is now doing similar sentiment polling on New Yorkers’ opinions and feelings about the coronavirus pandemic. As part of a new partnership with Elucd, starting this week, City & State will begin publishing the findings of that polling in our midday email, First Read Session Update. 

While the Cuomo and de Blasio administrations are providing regular updates on the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths, it’s not as easy to get hard data on citizens’ thoughts and attitudes about the pandemic back to those government officials. That’s where Elucd comes in. 

Elucd’s first client was the NYPD, and its partnership allows the department to understand how the public perceives police and how safe people feel in their neighborhoods. But observing the quickly intensifying attitudes around coronavirus, Michael Simon, co-founder and chief executive officer of Elucd, said he saw an opening for the company to help. “It became very clear to us, from what we were hearing from our city partners, that everyone was becoming alert and alarmed at the same time about what was coming down the pike,” Simon told City & State. “And we thought, what we know how to do is to move very, very fast and instantly enable them to hear from the people they serve.” The company is working directly with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, and also shares the results of its polling – which dates back to March 15 in New York – with over 40 different towns and cities across the state on an ongoing basis, including Rochester, Albany and Syracuse. 

While Elucd is conducting this sentiment polling across the nation and in other states, the statewide polling in New York – which now has roughly 5% of the confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide – offers some interesting insights. Take, for example, a question asking to what extent respondents were practicing social distancing. Last Tuesday, only 23% of respondents said they were social distancing “most of the time.” By Sunday, the day an effective lockdown ordered by Cuomo went into effect, that number was up almost 30 points, to 55%. Elucd is also able to break down this data demographically to tell what age groups, for example, might not be following social distancing – a data point that can help governments in targeting their public information efforts. 

Simon also said that when comparing New York’s polling information to the nationwide results, it seems that New Yorkers are taking the threat of the pandemic a bit more seriously than the average person living in the United States – perhaps because of the high number of cases in the state. This is evidenced by a data point showing that the share of New Yorkers who believe the current state of closed schools, businesses and public places will last four to six months is now higher than the number of people nationwide who believe it could last that long.

To conduct this polling, Elucd relies on digital ad networks – the ads that pop up with questions to answer when you’re reading an article online, scrolling through your Instagram feed or looking around for pantry recipes. Simon said that with this method, the company is able to collect responses from a broad demographic range, and from different respondents each day. They can also reach people on any device – whether they’re working from home, working at a hospital or on the go.

Technology companies like Elucd have emerged as potential partners for government in dealing with the pandemic, and Simon said the tech community has in some ways rallied to provide what help it can. “In the circles that I operate in, this is the No. 1 thing people are grappling with,” Simon said. “My observation is there is a real sense of obligation. We have talent, know-how and we can move very fast.”

Annie McDonough
Annie McDonough
is a tech and policy reporter at City & State.