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MIT Technology Review

The best, and the worst, of the coronavirus dashboards

There are dozens of sites that show you how coronavirus is spreading around the world. Here is our ranking.

singapore coronavirussingapore coronavirus
singapore coronavirus
UpCode Academy

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.

upcode coronavirus dashboard
UpCode Academy

1. UpCode

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

NextStrain coronavirus dashboard
NextStrain

2. NextStrain

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

Johns Hopkins coronavirus dashboard
JHU CSSE

3. Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering

Inspired by a previous dashboard created to track measles risk in the US, the JHU coronavirus dashboard has been visited more than 200 million times, with visitors hailing from nearly every country in the world. It is one of the most comprehensive dashboards for examining the global spread of the disease. You can home in on any country and location with confirmed cases, and even learn how many active cases they are still dealing with. And you can choose between many different base maps. Many other dashboards around the world have emulated this design.

But it’s also still a work in progress. It’s been revised three times, and a previous iteration used poorly sized circles to illustrate the extent of outbreaks in specific locations. The text is small. The black-and-red color palette is doing no favors for anyone’s anxiety about the virus. And there’s no way to learn more about specific cases or the history of the virus in a certain location.

Pros: Offers global look at the disease, near real-time updates, mobile version
Cons: Gloom-and-doom colors; a bit clunky to navigate; no info on history of cases for any location

thebaselab coronavirus dashboard
thebaselab

4. The Wuhan Virus

Developed by Thebaselab, this dashboard offers a near-real-time look at coronavirus on a global scale. The red color is a bit alarmist, but it’s balanced nicely by a clean white background. Like the JHU dashboard, The Wuhan Virus tabulates known case statistics from every country that’s been affected so far. Thebaselab also publishes its own stories to show how the dashboard works and how coronavirus compares with other major epidemics.

Pros: Clean; good color scheme; loads fast
Cons: Top-down layout is long; presence of extra stories is distracting and weird

BBC coronavirus dashboard
BBC

5. BBC

The BBC strives to offer a good primer in how coronavirus has spread over the last few months. The visuals are static and definitely unattractive, but the BBC’s dashboard has a good international focus, and even homes in on some of the major areas outside China that have experienced the worst impact, like Iran, South Korea, and Italy. So what you lose in a pleasant experience, you gain in information.

Pros: Easy to understand and navigate; explains major outbreak areas in detail
Cons: Bland; no interactive features; reads like an article

New York Times coronavirus dashboard
New York Times

6. New York Times

Similar to the BBC, the Gray Lady’s very own dashboard does what the New York Times does best: gives the public an easy-to-understand education on what’s going on. There aren’t any spiffy visuals or interactive charts, but there’s a useful breakdown of how each major continent has been affected, and how they are trying to contain the virus.

Pros: Clean, easy to understand, neat color scheme; a good introduction to the crisis; provides tips to readers,
Cons: Basic; not updated in real time; no interactive features

HealthMap dashboard
HealthMap

7. HealthMap

One might argue HealthMap's dashboard is too light to really be a dashboard. But it's on here because it's a very useful global map of coronavirus. You can play an animation of the map to see a time line of how the disease has spread across the world. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s a useful illustration of the virus’s history in case you need a primer.

Pros: Easy to play the animation
Cons: Basic, dark-gray map is gloomy

Singapore coronavirus dashboard
Singapore Ministry of Health

8. Singapore Ministry of Health

The official dashboard of the Singapore government makes UpCode's dashboard possible, but its presentation is so much worse. You can go through each confirmed case, learning when it was confirmed, how old the patient was, where they were hospitalized, where they lived, where they worked, places they may have visited, and more. Whether you laud the government for its transparency or balk at whether this might be a breach of privacy, there’s no question the data is incredibly useful for understanding how coronavirus has spread throughout Singapore.

Unfortunately, the ministry doesn’t make that data very easy to dive into. It presents only the most basic numbers and trend lines, in spite of the wealth of case data available.

Pros: Provides known details for each individual case; easy to understand the present situation in Singapore
Cons: No map; limited data presentation; looks ugly; privacy concerns

CDC coronavirus dashboard
CDC

9. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC’s dashboard is really just an extension of its main website. There’s nothing very appealing about it, but if you’re just looking for information and numbers, this is a solid dashboard to go to. This is mainly going to help Americans, as there isn’t much actionable data here for international visitors.

Pros: Simple “at a glance” summary of coronavirus in the US; provides information on state testing
Cons: Extremely dull; lacks any unique or interesting insights; limited information

Hong Kong coronavirus dashboard
The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

10. Hong Kong government

Hong Kong’s government operates a dashboard to show readers the extent of coronavirus within the city. The dashboard feels like a blast from the internet past, loading with a clunkiness reminiscent of GeoCities pages. It’s useful, however, because users can navigate a street map to see where confirmed patients reside and keep up with how many are hospitalized, how many have been discharged, how many have died, etc. The rest of the dashboard is populated with tips on how to protect yourself and links to resources.

Pros: Good for Hong Kong–specific information
Cons: Hard to use; looks terrible

Additional reporting by Angela Chen.