Kevin Duncliffe, a 52-year-old semi-retired software engineer and resident of Palm Desert, has been tracking COVID-19 data in the Coachella Valley since April 3, 2020.

Three years ago, COVID-19 arrived in California. Since Jan. 25, 2020, when a man in Orange County became the first confirmed case in the state, nearly 100,000 Californians have died, and many lives have been changed forever.

While we now know a fair amount about SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes, in those first terrifying months of 2020, we knew little—and it was often difficult to find accurate, trustworthy information about what was happening.

On April 3—when, according to a Calmatters timeline, 23,846 cases had been reported in California, and 427 people in the state had died of COVID-19—a then 49-year-old, semi-retired software engineer and Palm Desert resident named Kevin Duncliffe tweeted out this message from his personal Twitter account: “For those with an interest in the Coachella Valley, I am aggregating the stats published by to show the impact of COVID-19 on this particular region of southern California. #coachellavalley #coronavirus #COVID19.” Later that day, Duncliffe tweeted out the COVID-19 stats thus far for the Coachella Valley: 192 confirmed cases (+37 from the day before), and nine deaths.

With that, the work of Coachella Valley’s volunteer COVID-19 tracker began in earnest. Duncliffe began tweeting three or more times a day to update the number of COVID-19 patients in the three valley hospitals, the number of local ICU patients, and more.

“Mainly (I did it) because nobody else was doing it,” Duncliffe said during a recent interview. “I was seeing all these charts in other publications, particularly The New York Times, and they were breaking it down on the county level across the country, so you could see what was going on in Riverside County—but the Coachella Valley is kind of separate from the rest of Riverside County.”

Duncliffe said he began looking for Coachella Valley-specific data.

“I came across the state (of California) website, where you were able to see the breakdown by community, and you could see the numbers in an individual hospital—and then I realized I could put all that together,” he said. “Then I thought, ‘I might as well share this instead of keeping it to myself.’ I had a long-dormant Twitter account, and I thought, ‘This will be the place to disseminate it.’ And I did.”

During those early days of isolation, for many locals, Duncliffe’s tweeted updates became as much a part of the daily routine as checking the weather report each morning.

“Yeah, other people have said that to me as well,” Duncliffe said with a chuckle. “I’d gotten feedback from other people in the community, and pretty quickly, it became apparent to me that there were people actually reading (my Twitter data feed).”

Every day, Duncliffe would tweet text blocks with hospitalization and death counts, as well as self-created graphs, tables and charts. In 2021, after COVID-19 vaccines became publicly available, he would periodically display totals of shots administered locally.

“I came across the state (of California) website, where … you could see the numbers in an individual hospital—and then I realized I could put all that together. Then I thought, ‘I might as well share this instead of keeping it to myself.’” Kevin Duncliffe

On May 25, 2021, Duncliffe began publishing a blog in addition to his Twitter reportage. In his first blog post, he wrote about the damage wrought by this unstoppable virus since his first data-tracking tweet on April 3, 2020: “It got worse, and then it got even worse than that. By January (2021), I was reporting as many as 700 new cases in a single day, just in the Coachella Valley. There were days, nine days to be exact, when there were more than 300 COVID patients across our three local hospitals.”

In the same post, he mused on the accuracy of the state- and county-provided data he was compiling, and offered a personal take on his pandemic experience: “If you’re wondering: Yes, I wore a mask to the grocery store! I got vaccinated as soon as I could. It’s fair to question things, but when you’re crossing a busy highway, you don’t stop in the middle of the road and have a debate about whether the oncoming cars are real, or whether they are a figment of someone’s imagination.”

Duncliffe’s COVID-19-tracking efforts continued at this hyper pace until September 2021, when he cut back to one tweet a day. In May 2022, he began sharing the Palm Springs wastewater testing results for SARS-CoV-2 with his audience on a weekly basis. Last August, he cut back his workload more, and is now tweeting local COVID-19 hospitalization statistics once per week.

The Independent asked Duncliffe if he’s ever wondered why no county or regional entity ever took on the responsibility of tracking, aggregating and distributing local COVID-19 stats to the public.

“You know, that’s a good question,” Duncliffe said. “I haven’t really thought about that in terms of the health-care entities or governmental entities. I did wonder about the local news media. … Some of the local outlets asked for my permission to use the charts I was posting in their news broadcasts, which I was happy to (give). Maybe because I was doing it, nobody else thought they had to? I don’t know. … The Desert Sun and other outlets are stretched pretty thin. I don’t know if they had the resources to do something like this. Eventually, though, The Desert Sun did start compiling the same statistics that I did, although they never put it in chart form, or in aggregate form, so I never felt like I wanted to stop what I was doing, because I think the visualization is important.

“You know, not everybody is into data. I’m a software engineer by background, so I’m pretty data-oriented. One of the things I’ve learned over the course of my life is that not everyone else is. This is something that my sort of people like to do.”

After nearly three years of tracking COVID-19 in the Coachella Valley, what are Duncliffe’s main takeaways?

“Since the pandemic has just pretty much become part of our lives now, I think that, rightly or wrongly, our society at large has just made the decision to kind of get on with things and not worry so excessively about COVID,” Duncliffe said. “You can argue about whether that’s right or wrong, but collectively, that seems to be what we’re doing. You don’t see people wearing masks anymore. Most of the restrictions have been dropped, and so on. There are debates about it, but in reality, that’s where we are, and we’re not doing a great deal about it.

“A lot of people have complained about the lockdowns, and the way things were handled in the early going, (saying) was it an overreaction. But I think we’ve all forgotten that when this started, we didn’t really know how bad this virus was going to be. We didn’t really know what it was capable of doing. It was a totally new virus that our bodies had no defenses against. So, of course, everyone’s initial reaction wasn’t going to be exactly right. We can always look back and say, ‘They didn’t do enough,’ or, ‘They did too much.’ But we were all trying to deal with a vast unknown. … So I kind of bristle when people say, ‘Oh, you know, we shouldn’t have done all the lockdowns, and we shouldn’t have done this.’ We didn’t know.”

Duncliffe said he’s also amazed that effective COVID-19 vaccines arrived so quickly.

“It’s just incredible that within a year, we had people in our community starting to get vaccines in January 2021. I remember everybody scrambling and hitting the website over and over again, trying to get appointments, like it was the best thing ever to have a vaccine. I think all the tremendous effort that went into developing the vaccine and the success that we’ve had is tremendously underrated and underappreciated. We’re still quantifying exactly how effective these vaccines have been, but I don’t think there’s any question that they’ve greatly, greatly eased the pandemic. … Now it’s almost like we take it for granted.”

Now that he’s ramping down his COVID-19 tracking, what does Duncliffe envision doing with his increased free time?

“I am wondering when exactly I will stop it,” Duncliffe said. “I don’t know when that will be. I don’t know where the pandemic is going, but it doesn’t seem to be taking off again this winter. Right now, I don’t have a day job. … I just take care of the house. It’s just my husband and me and our cat, Wrigley.”

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Kevin Fitzgerald

Kevin Fitzgerald is the staff writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. He started as a freelance writer for the Independent in June 2013, after he and his wife Linda moved from Los Angeles to Palm...