Rating California counties on the thoroughness of their COVID-19 data dashboards

By Marc Joffe
April 14, 2020

Editor’s Note: The following was originally published on Reason.

In terms of providing quality information that researchers, hospitals, public health officials, and taxpayers would find the most useful, the best portals are offered by San Diego, Santa Clara, San Mateo and Marin counties.

County governments across California are providing an array of public coronavirus data on their websites. However, the amount and quality of data provided vary widely across counties, with only a few approaching the detail offered by New York City’s COVID-19 portal.

I located COVID-19 data portals for 28 California counties with populations greater than 200,000. I then reviewed each portal to determine whether it provides data in 11 key categories, including deaths and hospitalizations by gender and age. Case counts alone are not especially useful due to variations in testing protocols across jurisdictions. For this reason, I only assigned one point to any type of case data, although I added an additional point if the county provided a time series  Then, depending on the number of data elements provided, I gave the portals a letter grade on a scale of A-F.

In terms of providing quality information that researchers, hospitals, public health officials, and taxpayers would find the most useful, the best portals are offered by San Diego, Santa Clara, San Mateo and Marin counties.

These counties break down deaths by age range, sex and comorbidities (i.e., underlying conditions). They also provide hospitalization data. As a result, these portals provide citizens with a relatively complete picture of the impact COVID-19 is having in these counties.

By contrast, large countries, such as Alameda, Riverside and San Bernardino, are only providing case and death data. Counties with middling grades should look to the examples set by the A-rated counties.

The information from Los Angeles County, by far the state’s most populous county, is especially disappointing. With such a large budget, it is surprising that the county can provide little more than death and case counts, plus cases mapped. Since Los Angeles has a large proportion of statewide COVID-19 deaths, we would have a much better insight into California’s totals if Los Angeles County provided more information.

As discussions about when, and how, to reopen California’s economy take place, this debate should be informed by complete COVID-19 data. It’s crucial that taxpayers and policymakers make decisions based upon complete information and transparency during this pandemic.

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Marc Joffe is a senior policy analyst at Reason Foundation. He is the former Director of Policy Research at the California Policy Center.

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