If you’ve been on the web to learn more about the latest pandemic, chances are you’ve stumbled upon at least one or two coronavirus dashboards. These are the landing pages for interactive maps and visuals that show where the virus has spread, as well as numbers on the latest in infection rates and deaths, breakdowns of what countries are suffering from new cases and what regions are likely seeing new outbreaks, and much more.
Not all dashboards are created equal, nor do all people have access to the same dashboards (for instance, US sanctions prevent Iranians from accessing the one run by Johns Hopkins University). Some present data you won’t find elsewhere. Some are easier to navigate than others. Some are simply much more stunning to look at.
The JHU dashboard is one of the most popular. “We wanted to monitor the whole life of an infectious disease, from its rise to its fall,” says Ensheng Dong, a PhD candidate at the university who worked on the map. The team never expected it to draw so much attention, but since its launch, the dashboard has become a primary source of information for people eager to get real-time updates on the virus’s reach and impact.
There’s a hell of a lot more that goes into designing these dashboards than just whipping up a map with big “outbreak” circles here and there. You need to make sure your data representations are consistent and accurate, while also taking into account people’s concerns and fears. Dong highlights an instance when Diamond Princess patients repatriated to the US were initially represented by a dot placed in the center of the country, which happened to fall on Kansas. This didn’t sit well with Kansas residents, and JHU was persuaded to move the dot back to the location of the cruise ship. This might seem like a small quibble, but it highlights the extraordinary amount of work that goes into presenting the proper information while minimizing alarmism or complaints from affected communities.
Many people have raised concerns about whether these dashboards might violate the privacy of those infected. The official dashboard run by Singapore’s Ministry of Health, for example, presents specific data about each hospitalized case (including age, sex, approximate residence, workplace, and places those individuals visited). But ZP Lee from UpCode Academy, which runs a dashboard that scrapes from this data, says these locations have such high population density that “even with all the data in the website, it’s next to impossible to identify a person accurately.”
Here’s a ranking of some of our favorite—and least favorite—coronavirus dashboards on the web. This is far from an exhaustive list, and more dashboards continue to spring up with each passing day. But it should give you a sense of what’s useful to bookmark as coronavirus continues to spread across the world.
This dashboard proves you don’t need to be the flashiest to be the best. It scrapes data provided by the Singapore Ministry of Health’s own dashboard (which is exceptionally transparent about coronavirus case data). But UpCode’s is stupendously much cleaner and easier to navigate, and vastly more insightful. The information from cases is compiled and illustrated in pretty charts and graphs. You can see breakdowns and trends across gender, age, nationality, and location in the city. You can learn what the average recovery time is for those infected. And the map gives you a brilliant time line for coronavirus cases across Singapore since January. It’s so good that 80% of the dashboard’s traffic is from international users who are just admiring it.
Pros: Clean and easy to navigate; provides insights from the data; represents locations of infection; provides known details for each case
Cons: Represents only Singapore; privacy concerns
The data on NextStrain is going to be too technical for most users, but if you’re a scientist or an enthusiast who wants to learn everything about coronavirus’s genomic evolution, this is the dashboard for you. NextStrain pulls in all the data from labs around the world that are sequencing SARS-CoV-2’s genome, and centralizes it in one place for people to see in a genomic tree. “At the moment we’re definitely getting attention from everybody,” says Emma Hodcroft, a molecular epidemiologist at NextStrain. “I definitely hope that as this epidemic continues […]we can work even more closely with public health agencies, because I think they are the people who could benefit the most from these kinds of insights.”
Pros: Gorgeous visuals and animations; unique data for a dashboard
Cons: Very niche information