COVID source callout: South Carolina

It is not uncommon, as we increasingly realize that COVID-19 is not going away any time soon, for state public health departments to give their websites makeovers. Hastily-compiled pages and PDF reports have given way to complex dashboards, complete with interactive charts and color-coding.

These revamps can be helpful for users who would rather click through a menu than scroll through a report. But from a data collection perspective, it’s often challenging to go from a document or single page (where I could easily hit Ctrl+F to find a value) to a dashboard which requires clicking and searching through numerous popups.

The most recent state to go through such a revision is South Carolina. In late August, the state released a new dashboard, called the County-Level Dashboard, and reorganized much of its information on COVID-19 demographics and other metrics.

In fact, when I first looked at South Carolina’s revised pages, I could not find any demographic data at all. This information used to be reported on a page marked “Demographic Data by Case”; now, that page goes to a dashboard on cases in South Carolina’s long-term care facilities. It wasn’t until I read through the public health department’s new Navigation Manual that I realized demographic data are now integrated on the county dashboard. If I click, for example, “Go to cases,” I’m brought to a page reporting case rates by county, age, race, ethnicity, and gender.

Demographic data ahoy! Via the South Carolina County Dashboard, September 6.

To South Carolina’s credit, these new pages report demographic data in whole numbers, a more precise format than the percents of total cases and deaths released by many other states (and by SC itself before this reorganization). I also appreciate the addition of a Navigation Manual—such detailed instructions can help make a dashboard more accessible.

But I would advise any designers of state dashboard revamps to consider how to label figures more clearly from the get-go, so that journalists and state residents alike aren’t confused.

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