The corona dashboard, the statistics site that became a public favorite, is no more

The corona dashboard, the statistics site that became a public favorite, is no more
The corona dashboard, the statistics site that became a public favorite, is no more

With corona it was ‘just like in the car’, corona minister Hugo de Jonge (Public Health, Welfare and Sport) suddenly began on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, at one of the press conferences dedicated to the virus. ‘You want to know how fast you are going, and whether you can accelerate or brake.’

That was why it was time for a digital dashboard, De Jonge announced. ‘We will bring together all the information to improve the view of the corona reality. There are meters on the dashboard that we can read very precisely, like the odometer in the car: the number of new patients in intensive care, the number of new hospital admissions and the number of positive test results.’

About the author
Maarten Keulemans is science editor at de Volkskrantspecializing in microlife, climate, archeology and genetic engineering.

Such dashboards have existed before: years before corona, for example, Somalia already kept track of a polio outbreak on a dashboard. “But it is because of the corona pandemic that the dashboard was put on the map worldwide,” says professor of social medicine Niek Klazinga, affiliated with the Amsterdam UMC. For example, the American Johns Hopkins Institute started keeping track of the number of corona cases on a world map and in a few graphs in January.

Intended for policy makers

But that’s useful! Countries everywhere started to set up their own dashboards to inform the population. The Dutch dashboard was also a fact on June 5. “They took what figures were available,” says Klazinga, who scientifically described the dashboards in 158 countries. ‘And initially it was mainly intended for policymakers.’ For example, the figures were divided into safety regions, instead of municipalities.

The latter would increase citizen involvement, Klazinga thinks. ‘Is your city included? Is the virus increasing or decreasing in your area?’, he outlines. When Klazinga’s research group examined the dashboard again in December 2020, many things had already been added. Such as the corona situation in different age groups and in nursing homes.

These were golden times for the dashboard. Figures from the dashboard were circulated through the media, discussed at birthday parties and downloaded by hobbyists, who performed their own analyzes on them. And the site grew: visitors could check how many vaccines had been given, how many virus particles were in the sewer and which variants were circulating.

Yet information was also missing, Klazinga believes. ‘I don’t say that as a criticism, but as an observation.’ For example, it might have been useful if the dashboard had also included insights from behavioral sciences: how faithfully do people adhere to measures, how concerned are people about the virus? They only now appeared on the site afterwards.

Balanced image

In the meantime, policymakers would have benefited greatly from the broader picture, Klazinga believes. What are the economic consequences of the measures, how many other medical treatments have been postponed? “You would like to present a more balanced picture,” he says. ‘The emphasis was now on epidemiology. Everyone looked at the number of Covid patients in the ICU, not at the number of canceled operations.’

But the ministry had little interest in such adjustments, according to research that Klazinga conducted into De Jonge’s dashboard with ‘meters and indicator lights’. Leave the interpretation of what is happening to politicians and the outbreak management team, the development team behind the dashboard reasoned. The site was mainly intended to ‘inform a broad audience in an easy way about the current corona situation’, according to the ministry.

And now, 750 million page views and three years and nine months later, the ministry will no longer maintain the dashboard. The number of visitors already fell sharply last year, and now less than five thousand people come every month. A shadow of the more than 1.3 million unique visitors who visited the site in July 2022.

Infectious diseases in the spotlight

It was inspiring. For example, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) is currently considering better ways to present all national figures on infectious diseases on the internet, from respiratory infections to STDs. ‘We notice that infectious diseases are receiving more attention. People want to know more about it,” says RIVM epidemiologist Susan van den Hof. ‘And the corona dashboard can be an example of how to do that in an accessible, understandable way.’

Researcher Klazinga is now thinking bigger. An overarching dashboard that summarizes all kinds of statistics about local public health per country, that is the dream he has with the corona dashboard. “From mortality and how a country deals with strokes, for example, to financial indicators and the number of healthcare personnel,” he says.

The only downside: the car dashboard that De Jonge was talking about becomes more like the cockpit of an airplane, chock full of lights and indicators. “You’re quickly talking about about 220 indicators per country,” says Klazinga.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: corona dashboard statistics site public favorite


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