MU Extension develops COVID dashboard for Andrew County

A 10-county pilot project will test possible statewide expansion.

  • Published: Friday, Sept. 25, 2020

SAVANNAH, Mo. – Like health departments across Missouri, the Andrew County Health Department has its hands full with efforts to track and contain the spread of COVID-19. The staff, who often work well into the evening, needed a better way to share critical information with the public. So they turned to University of Missouri Extension, which worked with the department to develop an automatically updated COVID-19 dashboard for the county.

Communities, school districts, businesses and other organizations in the county look to the health department as they make decisions in light of the pandemic, said Jayne White, public health nurse manager for the Andrew County Health Department. With the dashboard, the county can direct residents to a webpage that updates daily with more detailed and up-to-date county-level information than is available from state and federal sources.

“The dashboard relieves a significant daily burden on us, creating very usable and public-friendly data,” White said.

The staff had been sending out updates manually created in PowerPoint, a time-consuming process that involved re-entering data they had already recorded in a spreadsheet. When White saw that neighboring Nodaway County had an automated COVID-19 dashboard, she contacted Gina Lucas of MU Extension in Andrew County. As a county engagement specialist, Lucas serves as a principal local point of connection with the university. She reached out to Joe Lear, MU Extension regional director for northwestern Missouri. Lear, who has an extensive background in information technology, knew that MU Extension’s Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems (CARES) had the resources and expertise Andrew County needed.

Since 1992, CARES has developed free, subscription-based and customized applications for research, collaboration and analysis. The center had already deployed a variety of pandemic-related tools at that allow users to look at COVID-19 numbers in the context of different factors, including social, economic and demographic data.

“Our role in extension is to provide tools for data-driven decision-making using maps, reports and dashboards,” said Chris Fulcher, director of CARES. “We used Andrew County as the testbed to determine if we could readily scale this effort to other counties across the state—particularly rural counties that may not have the time, technical capacity, or resources to efficiently communicate with community stakeholders.”

The CARES team worked with health department personnel, including White and county public health administrator Andrew Hoffman, to assess the department’s needs and develop a process to extract and publish relevant data in an easy-to-use format.

Instead of staff having to input the same data multiple times, CARES software uploads information from the department’s Excel file every 24 hours and displays it on the All Things Missouri website. The software can only access certain parts of the spreadsheet—addresses and other identifying information are excluded.

The dashboard, which launched Sept. 16, lists active and recovered cases; new cases over the previous one-day, seven-day and 14-day periods; and cases broken down by age and gender. An interactive graph illustrates daily case numbers and seven-day rolling averages back to the county’s first recorded case on April 10, 2020.

“The whole thing is automated, so the health department doesn’t have to do anything other than their usual data entry,” says Justin Krohn, research project analyst for CARES. “This saves the health department a lot of time creating charts and responding to individual community requests about recent conditions in the county.”

Fulcher says CARES plans to create COVID dashboards for 10 more counties as a pilot project. CARES recently launched dashboards for Jasper County and the city of Joplin. “This pilot phase will help us determine the level of complexity we’re dealing with as we look to potentially opening this up to counties across Missouri,” he says. “The 10-county pilot will help us determine a nominal cost on a per-county basis for providing this service to the remaining counties.”

For more information

Images available for this release:
Andrew County's automated COVID-19 dashboard, seen here following its nightly update on Sept. 24, 2020.
The Andrew County COVID-19 dashboard is mobile-friendly and presents information in an easy-to-read format.

Writer: Curt Wohleber

Media Contact

Joe Lear

Chris Fulcher

Justin Krohn

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