California: A Comparison of Official State COVID Data Visualization Dashboards

The COVID pandemic has offered us a unique opportunity to compare data visualization dashboards, as different US states approached the problem of how to communicate relevant COVID data to the public? Nearly every US State has released one or more official dashboards from their Departments of Health, but approaches in HOW each state is communicating that information through data visualization and dashboards is wildly different. Through this series, I’ll be examining each state’s dashboards through a design perspective, critiquing how the data are presented, and whether it’s effective communication. I’ll ask each dashboard the questions below to determine how well that state can answer each question simply, clearly and effectively towards multiple levels of users.

This comparison will be limited to dashboard and visualization design.

  • Not an analysis of the state’s sourcing of COVID data.
  • Not an analysis of the data trends and insights.

Basic COVID Public Health Questions

  • What’s the trend of new cases and deaths over time in my state?
  • Where in my state are people testing positive?
  • What’s the demographic breakdown of who is testing positive?
  • How many people are we testing? What percent of the tests result in a Positive diagnosis?
  • How busy are the hospitals — are they close to capacity?
  • How many people are getting the vaccine?
  • How does the dashboard look on mobile?
  • Can I download the data?
  • How frequently is the data updated?

State: California

California Department of Health: https://covid19.ca.gov/state-dashboard/

Summary main page for Dashboard

California’s COVID dashboard is a data nerd’s dream. California reports more statistics and data points than any state’s dashboard I’ve seen yet. The amount of upfront, transparent data available is mind blowing. Rather than pushing all the data into a singular dashboard, this Tableau based project includes a summary page with trending data on positive cases, deaths, testing and positivity rates, and impact on hospitals and ICUs. However, the impact of so much available data and options can lead the lagging — about 4 seconds to switch between views.

Dashboard covering cases, testing and death data

From the summary page, users can navigate to the Data and Tools page, with a plethora of information available — data bases, scientific data models, data dictionaries and links to five separate Tableau dashboards

KPIs chock full of data points

The five dashboards cover detailed levels of information on statewide cases, impacts on hospitals, Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) distribution, hospital bed surges, and impact on homeless population. Each dashboard has 4–6 drop downs to segment the data, based on measures appropriate to that data set. The colors are really clean — white background, a soft plum color for the highlight, and strong usage of grey to direct the eye, and keep the dashboard slightly softer on the eyes. The trending elements are full of KPIs and comparison data points, making strong use of the design space.

California is the first state dashboard I’ve seen to include detailed metrics on the distribution of personal protection equipment and the effect of the pandemic on the homeless population. California also provides users with a separate detailed statistical data modeling dashboard with deep levels of modeling, projections, and scenarios.

The California COVID-19 Assessment Tool (CalCAT) brings the best COVID-19 models together in one place to support policy and public health action. By providing ensemble estimates of critical COVID-19 metrics from a variety of models, the site facilitates comparison, discussion, and clarity about trends in the pandemic.

Basic COVID Public Health Questions

What’s the trend of new cases and deaths over time in my state?

California’s dashboard has multiple levels of trending graphs, in multiple slice and dice ways to view the data.

Where in my state are people testing positive?

Map data is a small clean bubble graph on several , but not all, of the dashboards. Every visual allows users to filter by country.

What’s the demographic breakdown of who is testing positive?

Demographic breakdowns by gender, age and race/ethnicity are front and center, with the same filtering and dicing options as the rest of the data. Demos are presented in a horizontal bar chart with target lines identifying the total California population rates as comparison points.

How many people are we testing? What percent of the tests result in a positive diagnosis?

The main Cases dashboard includes a section of details about testing results. However, this part of the dashboard does not filter/change when the user opts to view at a county level. California isn’t providing data on testing at the county level.

How busy are the hospitals — are they close to capacity?

Hospitals and alternative sites provide multiple levels of detail, including positive and suspected patients, ICU patients positive and suspected, and count of available beds. A note on the hospitals page indicates there used to be a graph section for NICU bed counts, but that data is no longer provided, due to a change from Health and Human Services. California provides a number of alternate care sites, with detailed information for each of the facility names.

How many people are getting the vaccine?

California provides another dashboard specifically for vaccine distribution — again showing a depth of data and full transparency to users.

How does the dashboard look on mobile?

Can I download the data?

Yes, multiple different types of data.

How frequently is the data updated?

Daily — results up to date to two days ago.

A Purple Unicorn in a World of Beige Sheep. Writing about data visualization, self promotion, job searching and more.