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University of Laval uses ArcGIS to Communicate the Impact of COVID-19 for the province of Québec

In March of this year, the government of Québec signed the Order in Council to declare a health emergency in the province. To provide understanding within a situational context of the pandemic during the subsequent period of quarantine, the University of Laval chose ArcGIS.

“Being able to visualize and interpret data can provide effective management and understanding of the situation,” said Stéfano Biondo from the University’s geo-statistics centre library. “ArcGIS Dashboards met this need.”

Benoît Lalonde and Hicham El Hachemi, from the University’s geography department, automated part of the data collection by developing Python scripts to populate spreadsheet fields directly, which would then feed ArcGIS Online and the ArcGIS Dashboards app. But it hasn’t always been this easy.

As we can all remember, the period in March and through much of spring was one of uncertainty and confusion. How long is the quarantine? How bad is the situation? Where is the source of authoritative information?

At the beginning and before automating much of the process, Lalonde and Biondo conceded that the greatest challenge was collecting the data, organizing the data and updating it. “We had to manually collect the data from different sites.”

[Note: COVID-19 case data and spatial layers are available here.]

Now, the University of Laval COVID-19 site receives over 7,000 views per day. It is the only source of information in the province that combines the breadth of data in a single location. And its use is multiplied across the region. The City of Montréal Regional Public Health Department, for example, is linking directly to the University’s dashboard to provide Québec’s hardest-hit city with accurate, updated information.

As more smaller units of geography (boroughs of Montréal) level data has become available, representatives from the University will be quick to point out the ability to choose the scale of representation of information has become more important—this drives the understanding of the impact of COVID-19 and measures the government has put in place. Biondo agrees: “Because of the flexibility of ArcGIS Dashboards, we were able to add new graphics and maps with new indicators throughout the distribution of data.”

The University has since launched a second dashboard to compare Québec numbers to other countries and regions. This was accomplished by connecting directly with the ubiquitous Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard.