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.
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.