Since launching a statewide COVID-19 web map and dashboard, the Western Illinois University GIS Center, in cooperation with the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Geographic Information Sciences (EAGIS) and the Illinois GIS Association (ILGISA), have seen an average of 20,000 visits a day on the site as individuals seek comprehensive, and easy to follow, information regarding the spread of the virus.
The project began approximately two weeks ago when GIS Center Specialist Renée Büker initially created a map of cases in west central Illinois for Fulton County Emergency Management. Shortly after, the ILGISA requested the GIS Center construct a web map tracking cases statewide, and from there, the dashboard began attracting more attention because of its straightforward visual format and thorough data.
“The dashboard’s popularity has exceeded our expectations. It’s gratifying to create a piece of technology that’s so useful,” WIU GIS Center Director and ILGISA President Chad Sperry said. “This also gives our center the opportunity to showcase our visualization and analytic capabilities, and what our students learn in – and out – of the classroom.”
The map highlights counties where cases have been reported and symbolizes the number of cases. By using a web environment, the map can be rapidly distributed and users can pan and zoom around the map to focus on particular areas of the map.
“Being able to visualize the data in a map effectively communicates the information to non-experts,” Christopher Sutton, EAGIS cartography and GIS professor, said. “This dashboard was created to keep Illinois citizens informed, and the daily visits to the site suggests it has accomplished that goal. In addition to the general public, we know that many local, state and federal agencies are utilizing and sharing this resource.”
Data at the county level are reported by the Illinois Department of Public Health and respective agencies in states bordering Illinois.
According to Sperry, the map is updated once a day as the IDPH and other agencies release official reports. While the map data may lag slightly behind cases that are reported by news outlets, the information presented still remains relatively current.
The staff working on the map updates and refinements can do so easily as they are able to work together from their respective homes, in order to comply with social distancing, to coordinate the necessary changes through the Center’s web mapping software.
“Our GIS faculty and GIS Center staff are well-versed in GIS technologies, and foremost, they make sure to share their expertise for the public good. In addition to training students to acquire GIS skill sets, they also value a sense of community, applying their expertise to statewide geospatial mapping, including the Covid-19, flooding, warming centers and tornado damage assessment, etc. They are great at what they do,” said EAGIS Chair Samuel Thompson.
To view the map, visit wiu.edu/illinoiscovidmap/.