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App of the Month: Newfoundland & Labrador COVID-19 Pandemic Update Data Hub

May’s App of the Month—the Newfoundland and Labrador COVID-19 Pandemic Update Data Hub—is an ArcGIS Hub site built by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s GIS and Mapping Division, the Newfoundland and Labrador Statistics Agency, and the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information to provide up-to-date information about the spread of the pandemic in the province. With a simple layout of maps, charts and graphs, the hub delivers authoritative, timely information about COVID-19 to the public in a mobile-friendly package.

Crisis communication made fast and easy

Canada has been actively responding to the COVID-19 pandemic for the past two months. Government agencies have been working tirelessly to let the public know how the pandemic has been spreading within their areas of influence. Organizations like the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s GIS and Mapping Division have had to quickly develop their own centralized communication hubs to keep members of the public informed and give them a clear, realistic picture of the pandemic locally.

Peter Hearns, director of the GIS and Mapping Division, spearheaded a group effort to get key COVID-19-related information out to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. They brought together the expertise of many different departments and agencies, including the GIS and Mapping Division, the Newfoundland & Labrador Statistics Agency and the Newfoundland & Labrador Centre for Health Information along with some incredible cooperation with the Department of Health and Community Services.

“Being a group of GIS and geography people, we knew that one of the best ways to communicate up-to-date information to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians was to do something like what Johns Hopkins was doing,” said Peter, referring to the COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

Having worked with several relevant ArcGIS Online tools recently—including ArcGIS Experience Builder Beta, ArcGIS StoryMaps, ArcGIS Dashboards and Survey123 for ArcGIS—the Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) Team already had all the tools they needed to hit the ground running. The Newfoundland and Labrador COVID-19 Pandemic Update Data Hub, our App of the Month, was the result.

Featuring key statistics that are updated daily, the Newfoundland and Labrador COVID-19 Pandemic Update Data Hub provides the public with a single, authoritative, easily understandable point of reference for the latest on COVID-19 in the province.

At a glance

When users access the Newfoundland and Labrador COVID-19 Pandemic Update Data Hub, first thing they see is the customized banner across the top of the page. Featuring warm red and white, the banner matches the brand palette in the provincial government’s logo. From there, the page is simple and clean. The team chose the page’s minimalistic aesthetic and streamlined look and feel because they wanted something straightforward that users could understand at a glance.

The hub is also mobile friendly—a key feature, since 60 to 80 percent of users accessing the hub are using mobile devices. All the maps, charts and graphs on the page scale easily on small screens.

Two different interactive maps, each with different levels of detail, are featured on the hub, allowing users to view the state of the pandemic in terms of Regional Health Authority (RHA) and by Primary Health Care (PHC) Area.

Digging deeper

Once the Newfoundland and Labrador team had constructed the survey and the hub, they built their first map based on the boundaries of the higher-level Regional Health Authorities along with a few basic graphs in individual dashboards. They later added a view based on the province’s more granular Primary Health Care Areas. The hub allows viewers to switch between these two map views with the click of a button.

Based on requests from the public, the hub also provides users with the number of cases per Primary Health Care Area in a tabular format. Most of the data feeding the hub is updated daily via three Survey123 forms: one for provincial statistics, one for the Regional Health Authority map data and one for the age breakdown featured in a chart at the bottom of the page. The Primary Health Care Area map and this table, however, are updated using the ArcGIS Online Hosted Feature, either in ArcGIS Pro or by opening the elements in a web map.

Responding to requests by members of the public, a table of the raw data was added to the hub. This way, users can more easily use the data for their own analysis and members of the public have a more specific idea of which areas have cases of COVID-19.

The team is planning to add additional information soon including demographics and a tool that locates the nearest medical facilities and testing site locations. The hub team is also considering adding a gallery leading users to additional information about the pandemic nationally and internationally, as well as a function allowing people who aren’t GIS professionals to download the Newfoundland and Labrador data in CSV format.

Giving the public a clear idea of the pandemic’s progress over time is a key goal of the hub. At the bottom of the hub, the team has provided several explanatory graphs showing the progression of cases, recoveries and tests in the province, as well as total numbers and information about the number of cases within each age category.

Reaching a wide audience through mobile

The hub has reached a far bigger audience than the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador ever expected—largely thanks to how well it displays on mobile devices. People around the world have been visiting the hub, including thousands from across Canada. It’s also become a model for other organizations across the country, inspiring them to ask questions of the Newfoundland and Labrador team about how they’ve made their hub look and feel the way it does.

In fact, mobile friendliness is Peter’s big takeaway from the experience, and he’d advise anyone looking to make their own ArcGIS Hub page to communicate with the public to make their page as mobile friendly as possible. 

Perhaps most importantly, the core audience for the hub—residents of Newfoundland and Labrador—have actively been using it. The Newfoundland and Labrador team receives positive and constructive feedback about the hub every day, thanks to the contact information provided at the bottom of the page.

Succeeding through adaptability

Adaptability has been key to the Newfoundland and Labrador team. Not only did the team need a way of displaying content that could be updated quickly when new information came in, but it needed to work for mobile and computer users alike, and it needed to be able to showcase several different types of items. The final product does all these things, and to this day gets thousands of hits per day from within Canada, helping people to better understand how the pandemic is evolving in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Canada.

Peter and his team developed the Newfoundland and Labrador COVID-19 Pandemic Update Data Hub after watching Esri Canada’s free webinar “Responding to the COVID 19 Crisis with Free ArcGIS Hub Resources”. Watch it here to learn more about developing your own Hub site using readily available, easy-to-use templates and to learn about Esri’s Disaster Response Program, which provides organizations affected by disasters like COVID-19 with GIS tools like ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Hub Basic free of charge for 6 months.

About the Author

Dani Pacey is a Marketing Specialist for Esri Canada. She digitized her first map at the tender age of 10 and has been fascinated by the relationships between people and places ever since. An avid technical communicator with degrees in Science & Technology Studies from York University and History of Science & Technology from the University of King's College, Dani has always blended science, social science and the humanities and loves bringing them all together to tell great stories about human life.

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