OpenAQ’s Response to COVID-19

How the needs of the international air quality community are changing due to COVID-19 and how we’re responding.

4 min readMay 26, 2020


Over the past few months, the world and its needs have changed dramatically. And the need for real-time data harmonized from disparate sources has never been more pronounced. Countries around the world depend upon COVID-19 projections created by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and other groups to make life-and-death decisions on COVID-19 policy. Meanwhile, the ability to produce such forecasts rely upon the timely availability of tons of disparately-shared public health data put out by hospitals, local government agencies, and many other sources.

In the international air quality community, COVID-19 has also created an acute, increased demand for open data on three fronts:

  • Gauging the impact of air quality on those suffering from COVID-19 and how, if at all, the relationship can inform COVID-19 mortality and morbidity projections (Read more here).
  • Understanding the impact that COVID-19 lockdowns have had on local, regional, and global air quality levels, and how the unprecedented situation can provide a silver lining for crafting more effective air quality policy making (See examples below).
  • Determining how the relaxation of air quality regulations in some places post-lockdown may impact air quality (Read more here).

Increased Demand for Open Air Quality Data

At OpenAQ, we have seen an increase in demand for real-time, global air quality data in the last couple of months — a time when we usually expect a decrease in usage as the Northern Hemisphere pollution season ends. As of the time of this posting, we project a 40% increase in data requests to the OpenAQ API during May as compared to February 2020.

As of the time of this posting, we project a 40% increase in data requests to the OpenAQ API this May, compared to February 2020.

What COVID-19 & Air Quality Work is the Community Doing?

The OpenAQ Community has accessed data from the OpenAQ Platform for several impactful use-cases related to COVID-19. They include:

These sorts of works maximize the silver lining that we collectively can extract in this unprecedented and otherwise difficult moment. And they are only possible if data are made accessible in a timely, harmonized, and programmatic fashion.

What is OpenAQ doing to respond to COVID-19?

Adding more data sources in key geographies. A lot of the work that we already have planned for the rest of 2020 remains the same — but we want to do it faster. In particular, we feel an urgency around getting new data sources in the platform as soon as possible. Air quality data for locations that are not already ingested into the OpenAQ system may be difficult to recover and are lost for practical access by a broad portion of the community. We need to get them in as soon as possible.

Key geographies we want to ingest data from — and for which we believe there are available open data sources that meet OpenAQ data and meta data requirements include:

Rolling out new tools. This has already been part of the 2020 plan, made possible from funding from ClimateWorks, the Clean Air Fund, and the Environmental Defense Fund, but we see an increased need for such tools for more groups to do fast analysis. Such tools include:

  • Temporal and geospatial averaging (e.g. query the OpenAQ system for the daily PM2.5 level of Beijing, rather than having to download all hourly station-level data in Beijing for the day and doing your own average).
  • Removing 90-day limit for past data access via the API. Currently, all data in OpenAQ are available via S3 buckets, but only the past 90 days is available via the API.
  • Adding in new data types. Currently, the OpenAQ Platform only ingests data from government and research-grade sources. We are expanding the ability to add in more research-grade data seamlessly, as well as building out a low-cost sensing platform by the end of 2020.

Creating community space for COVID-19 and air quality conversations. We are re-shaping Community Series events for the remainder of 2020 to build in COVID-19 response efforts by the international air quality community.

How Can You Help?

OpenAQ has always relied on its community for impact, and we know the community wants to help one another do more with open air quality data at this time more than ever. Here’s how you can help:

  • Give us feedback about the ways OpenAQ could be making your access and wrangling of the data faster and easier! Shoot us a message at or talk to us on the OpenAQ Community Slack Channel!
  • Write an adapter for a new data source (issues here on GitHub and/or reach out on the #dev channel on the OpenAQ Community Slack Channel).
  • Investigate if existing known ‘new data sources’ (issues here) meet the OpenAQ data and meta data requirements.
  • Let us know if you are up to something awesome with data accessed from the OpenAQ Platform by shooting us an email ( or joining the OpenAQ Community Slack Channel.
  • Contact us about potential funding opportunities at

Lastly, we hope this finds you and your families safe and healthy as possible during this time.

Interested in learning more? Email or join the OpenAQ Community Slack Channel!




We host real-time air quality data on a free and open data platform because people do amazing things with it. Find us at