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Data-Driven Insight in a Public Health Crisis

How governments are using data to drive public health initiatives and decision-making during the COVID-19 pandemic.

by Tableau Software / November 23, 2020

From the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, data has provided a powerful tool to protect public health, manage the recovery and reopen the economy. State and local governments have been inundated with data – on infection and mortality rates, inventories of medical supplies, hospital beds, testing capacity, contract tracing, unemployment claims, federal assistance dollars and a great deal more. The challenge is how to turn this deluge of numbers into actionable insight.

For many state and local governments, the solution has been to implement data visualization and analysis. Using a governed, secure platform to create data visualizations, governments gain insights that inform their responses to both the public health crisis and the economic emergency.

Here are some examples of how governments are using data visualizations to manage the immediate emergency and put their citizens on the road to reopening and recovery.


In the early weeks of the pandemic, the Department of Health in hard-hit New York State built a dashboard to share crucial COVID-related information with the public. Available online, this resource provided statistics on factors such as the number of people tested, the total number of positive tests and daily positive test counts, both statewide and by county.

At the same time, New York City developed a mechanism for tracking crucial elements of the coronavirus response, including hospital capacity and the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE). The dashboard provides critical data such as the number of available beds and COVID-19 trends, both by age group and by network and hospital facility.

Governments also use data visualizations to measure the performance and progress of their COVID-19 contract tracing programs. By building a dashboard on top of a constituent relationship management (CRM) solution, a government can identify superspreader events and locate patients who have infected others. This dashboard also updates government executives with key performance indicators (KPIs) to show how well the contract tracing process is performing. Data points tracked include the total number of contacts traced, average contacts made by each tracer per day and the percentage of contacts provided with self-quarantine instructions.


New York State established seven metrics to determine when a geographic region was ready to advance to the next phase of the state’s four-phase reopening plan. A publicly available dashboard made the reopening process transparent, letting any interested party watch the progress of any region in near-real time.

A dashboard designed for Florida helped the state government with its reopening and return to work. It analyzes the number and percentage of employees who are at risk for COVID infection, both in total and by building. The dashboard also provides help with workplace floorplans, allowing workers to return to the office while observing social distancing protocols.


South Carolina created an executive-level, mobile-friendly dashboard to help its governor track data related to the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic. Among the metrics tracked are numbers of individuals working, the current unemployment rate, current number of online job postings, home sales, retail sales and capital investments.

On a second dashboard, government officials in South Carolina monitor requests for disbursements of funds provided under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This visualization tracks grant management funds available to the state, reimbursement requests, the total value of approved reimbursements and calls to the SC CARES call center.

In Arizona, officials have been evaluating a dashboard for possible use when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available. To help individuals make vaccine appointments, it maps vaccine locations and provides details such as hours of operation and how long people are waiting to obtain their vaccines.

Other potential use cases for data visualizations and analysis during the pandemic include helping first responders determine how to deploy resources, and managing supply chains for PPE, testing supplies, ventilators, hospital beds and other items.

Best Practices for Using Data Visualizations to Support Resilient Communities

Data visualizations can help states and local communities overcome not only the current public health emergency, but a wide range of other challenges. To take full advantage of data visualization tools, the first step is to present a series of compelling use cases to get leadership on board. Leaders need to understand that data visualization and analysis is not just another technology tool, but a new way to harness the power of data for better decision-making. Once they’re convinced, leaders will make resources available and champion the use of data visualization throughout the organization.

Once the organization adopts data visualization and analytics, program leaders should conduct workshops with various lines of business, giving leaders hands-on experience with the tools. This will show people within those lines of business how easy it is to access their data. It could also give them ideas about how to apply data analytics in support of their missions.

When choosing a data visualization and analytics platform, it’s important to invest in one that provides strong data governance and security. This is to ensure that dashboards display the correct data and don’t expose data that needs to remain private, such as information protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Governments that implement data visualization and analytics also need to make sure the information presented in dashboards is easy to interpret and provides real value. To achieve this, business teams and IT teams should collaborate closely. They should jointly determine which data a dashboard should include and how best to present it. Then they should test the preliminary results on end users to make sure the dashboard performs as intended. Ideally, the business and IT teams will also work with their data visualization technology partner to get as much benefit from the application as possible.

When a community faces a widespread public health emergency, government officials have to move both quickly and intelligently. With a well-designed data visualization and analytics platform, all stakeholders – from executive leaders and legislators to frontline government employees to citizens – get clear, easy-to-understand information to guide their decisions as they handle the emergency, from immediate response to long-term recovery and beyond.

For more information on how to harness data visualization and analytics to drive decision-making on crisis response and economic recovery, view the on-demand webinar.

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