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?
Florida Department of Health, Division of Disease Control and Health Protection: https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/96dd742462124fa0b38ddedb9b25e429
Florida’s COVID dashboard has been controversial during the past year, A geographic information system analyst Rebekah Jones who had been working on the dashboard made national headlines when she was fired in May 2020 from the Florida Department of Health over alleging that the Department pressured her to change the numbers. Subsequently, Jones launched her own alternate version of the states’ dashboard, with the same template, but differing numbers. In December 2020, state police raided Jones’ home, confiscating all electronic devices. Her case is currently ongoing, but Jones has been recognized by Fortune magazines 40 Under 40 and as Forbes Technology Person of the Year.
Initial Observations on Dashboard
Florida’s dashboard is an ArcGIS platform, designed in a dark mode format with black background, and 8 pages of data aligned in tabs at the bottom. Color elements are very brightly contrasting, using shades of orange, red and neon green that are emotionally alarming and harsh on the eyes. Text fonts are very inconsistent across all pages, both in color, size and emphasis (bold/italic).
Over a third of each page is taken up with huge fonts to display 5 KPIs (Total Cases, positive residents, hospitalizations, and resident / non-resident deaths. As relevant data is spread across 8 pages, the dashboard isn’t effectively using space, and data is replicated in multiple places. This section on the second page replicates the information in big letters above and small letters below, (in case you didn’t read it the first time, I suppose).
Bar graph and line graphs show volume of people tested by week and percent tested positive, but the X axis has daily labels, resulting in confusing dated gaps between the data points, and a confusing axis label. Likely due to its transient population (i.e. Snowbirds) Florida finds it very important to distinguish between residents and non-residents in its statistics.
Florida’s dashboards are map heavy. In addition to a county-level map (color coded, but lacking a legend as to the meaning of the color) on the dashboard home page, there are 4 other mapping pages: Cases per 100,000 population by county, Number of cases reported yesterday by county, Cases by Zip code and a global map from Johns Hopkins University that heat maps cases by county versus US state and versus countries around the world. Combining so many varied geographic points with some unclear color coding and bubble sizing creates a pretty muddled map. Again, on this map, nearly 40% of the canvas is taken up with four large data points, emphasizing (with alarm) the number of cases and deaths in USA and globally.
Basic COVID Public Health Questions
What’s the trend of new cases and deaths over time in my state?
Daily and weekly trending data for past 30 days only.
Where in my state are people testing positive?
Multiple geomaps of dimensions, down to county and zip code level. Zip code level seems a little extraneous. Florida clearly separates and reports residents versus non-residents.
What’s the demographic breakdown of who is testing positive?
Demographic info can be found in two areas. On the main “Florida Cases” page, each county reports cases and demographics in tooltip hover. The “Cases by County” page shows graphical representation of the same data by full state and by county, replicating data on the earlier page.
How many people are we testing? What percent of the tests result in a positive diagnosis?
A full page is dedicated to testing, outlining total testing, and positive versus negative results, and percent positive versus a KPI target goal of 10%. Using RED font to indicate positive and GREEN font to indicate negative gives a big cognitive dissonance, but in this case, a negative test result is a positive result. Users can view weekly results going back 6 weeks only.
How busy are the hospitals — are they close to capacity?
Florida’s dashboard only lists a single metric for hospitalizations — the total residents hospitalized since the start of the pandemic.
How many people are getting the vaccine?
No information is provided on vaccine access on this dashboard. A separate search for any FDOH info on vaccines turned out this PDF document which delivers a daily 2-page static report on vaccine progress.
How does the dashboard look on mobile?
Dashboard has been translated and simplified for a mobile screen. However, there are discrepancies between how the data is reported. For example, the testing rate page on the Web version lists testing results from the previous day (at about 6.42% positive), where the mobile version shows testing from the start of time (at 17.1% positive).
Can I download the data?
The DOH provides this open data: https://open-fdoh.hub.arcgis.com/search?q=covid19. Four tables of information on various public health aspects, downloadable as CSV or a JSON API query.
How frequently is the data updated?