Walla Walla County unveils new COVID-19 website

Abby Malzewski, Staff Reporter

Walla Walla County finally has its own COVID-19 website. On Nov. 2, the County Health Department published a new website that illustrates recent trends and resources for combating COVID-19 in the county. The website contains a variety of information, including facts about symptoms, where to find local testing, and local and state data.

The website was created by Kelly Black, the Communication Coordinator of the Department of Community Health. Black used the Squarespace content management system to design the website. The agency C+C translated aspects of the website into Spanish, including infographics and important resources, and this translation work was funded by the Washington State Department of Health.

The new website features tabs titled, “Symptoms, Testing and Care,” “Resources,” and “Data.” The “Data” section for Walla Walla County on the webpage includes statistics regularly updated Mondays through Fridays by 5 p.m. There are also graphic visualizations of the data which illustrate monthly trends, new cases and breakdown cases by age and gender.

Black shared that the goal of the design process was to create a website with robust data that was inviting to viewers.

“In the design stage we focused on user experience and dual language accessibility,” Black said. “We wanted a website rich with video and infographics that also felt inviting and had an approachable voice. Our goal was to create a robust COVID-19 website with resources for Walla Walla County residents by using a content management system to allow our department to adapt rapidly to changing communication needs during the COVID-19 pandemic response.” 

Peter Harvey, the Chair of Whitman’s Coronavirus Task Force and Chief Financial Officer, discussed how the task force will use this new website for Whitman’s upcoming spring semester.

“This data will help inform what our testing protocols will be when we resume in-person learning,” Harvey said. “We also monitor websites for state and national data.”

This particular website launched after Whitman’s decision to return to campus this coming spring semester.

A representative from Whitman’s Coronavirus Task Force currently meets twice a week with the Department of Community Health and other community leaders — such as representatives from hospitals, emergency management or local schools — to share information about their organizations’ activity. Harvey himself periodically meets with Whitman’s liaison at Community Health to share plans and get advice about testing, quarantining and contact tracing.

Janet Davis, a computer science professor, commented on the layout of the new webpage during her own personal research.

“My overall assessment is that the information is useful, and there is room for improvement in the design,” Davis said. “With the very large text, it’s clearly designed for mobile first.”

Davis pointed out that the centered text and narrow paragraphs along the left-hand side of the page can be hard to read. She also commented on the aspects of the website that seemed most helpful, particularly the graphs.

“The graph of ‘New Cases of COVID-19 Per Month in WWC & WSP’ is exactly what I wanted to know. This graph is true and easy to understand,” Davis said. “The use of a red-yellow scale in ‘New Cases of COVID-19 in Walla Walla County by Community of Residence in 14-day periods’ is not a great choice. Red usually means something is bad; in this chart it just represents the data from particular dates. The yellow is difficult to see against the gray background.”

Davis commended the way this website explains why the data is important and the breakdown of cases by age and gender. Davis believes that the website will be a helpful resource when returning to campus. 

Albert Schueller, a mathematics professor, appreciated the daily count of new, active, isolated and hospitalized cases on this website. 

“It’s nice that they make the new cases available regularly,” Schueller said. “I think a lot of folks are interested in the trends, and this page does less well in that regard. Cases-per-month is way too coarse and too infrequently updated to be of use to the community at large.”

For the “New Cases of COVID-19 Per Month in WWC & WSP” graph, Schueller recommended tracking seven-day averages instead. He also recommended removing the fitted curve or a table of numbers from the bar graph.

“The fitted curve through that sparse collection of points is problematic. There’s no way to know what that curve means,” Schueller said. “On the one hand, it’s surprising that the trend graph isn’t daily. On the other hand, during a time when city budgets are strapped, there probably aren’t a whole lot of resources kicking around to improve this page.”

Schueller praised the way the website separated the Washington State Penitentiary Cases from the rest of the community. He also commented on how Whitman has greater control over the Whitman community than Walla Walla County has over the county population.

“The rate of community transmission is an important factor in the decision to return, but similar to the penitentiary, Whitman has the ability to impose social-distancing rules on its students that the city is unable to impose on the population at large,” Schueller said. “We might be able to provide a safer environment for students than their home communities, and at the same time, keep from contributing to the case rate in the greater Walla Walla area.”

As of Nov. 6, the site has had 6,200 different visitors with 11,000 page views.