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Jo Ellen Warner: State’s health department website inadequate during this crisis

Published: 3/20/2020 3:51:12 PM
Modified: 3/20/2020 3:51:00 PM

Critically important information about the coronavirus is either missing or hard to find on the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s website. A visitor to the site has to search four levels (clicks) before arriving at the county-by-county case count, which lets us know the presence of COVID-19 illness in our local communities.

Meaningful data on the progression of cases and death counts are also missing. The department is posting daily total numbers, as it should, but there are no graphs or other comparative information showing whether the numbers are going up or down.

This is important because it lets us know when and whether things are getting better. It would tell us, for example, if measures like social distancing are effective in slowing the spread of infection.

Helpful external links are likewise absent, including the CDC’s coronavirus website and the “myth busters” on the WHO’s coronavirus pages. I am a former communications officer for both the Seattle-King County Health Department in Washington state and the World Health Organization in the Asia Pacific region. I know firsthand from SARS, avian influenza, and other health crises how important it is for the public and policymakers to have access to information they need to protect their communities, themselves and their families.

The Massachusetts Department of Health has plenty of models for excellent state and local public health department websites around the country. Our state’s website needs to be much more transparent, robust and user-friendly to support the public throughout the crisis, and local health jurisdictions should follow suit.

Jo Ellen Warner

Amherst




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