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Why do state or local governments need good COVID-19 information websites?

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is an unprecedented threat to public health and stability. In this rapidly changing environment, the American public looks to government to provide reliable information and help. One of the most important ways that a government can do this is by publishing accurate, up-to-date, actionable information. Having a website where you provide a single source of truth for reliable, up-to-date information is a great way to do this.

A lot of COVID-19 info is globally applicable, such as what is published by the White House Coronavirus Task Force or the CDC. Your websites do not need to repeat this information — simply either embed these resources on your site or link to these sites.

However there is some information that is specific to states or localities. This type of information, you should gather and make available on your website, such as:

  • Whether or not there is a Stay At Home order from the state

  • Who should get tested for COVID-19 and how

  • What local resources are available such as hospitals or financial help

  • Infections, testing, and tracking data that is specific to your locality

The What Information Should Be On Your Site section of this doc describes what types of information you should have on your coronavirus website which is specific to your state/locality vs. what can be linked or embedded from the authoritative source.

Where do I publish COVID-19 information? Do I need to have a separate COVID-19 website? Or can I repurpose an existing site?

Guidance for federal agencies from digital.gov suggests to stand up an agency.gov/coronavirus page. For states and localities, it should be something like sanantonio.gov/coronavirus in accordance with this structure.

All information about coronavirus from your agency should be housed on this page so that your public has one single source of truth to access. This page should communicate information that is specific to your state/ locality, like announcements about Stay At Home orders or state/ locality-specific resources. For all other information, it should link to authoritative information from other government agencies. Digital.gov advises to not copy-paste information from other sites, and to prominently link to information instead. Guidance on what information to put on your coronavirus site is here.

Once you have this page, you should link to it from your main website, as this is one of the most important resources that the public should be made aware of. The State of California is a great example of this. On the homepage of their main website, ca.gov, a banner at the top lets visitors know that there is a Coronavirus response site. This makes it easy for anyone who visits their website to be able to go straight to COVID-19 info.

California’s main homepage

Who is my audience?

Your audience is the general public who needs help or information. This general public is anxious, fearful, and confused. Many of them are sick or have lost their jobs. There is an explosion of information about coronavirus, but the reliability and accuracy of this information is not always clear. In times like these, the public looks to their governments to create clarity and provide prescriptive guidance on what to do.

The information that you publish and the way that you publish it (communication style, clarity of language, visual design, UX) needs to have this audience in mind.

  • Information and directives need to be clear, simple, and actionable. A middle schooler should be able to read your content and understand what to do.

  • Publish just the essential information on your site. Resist the urge to publish all the information that you can find about coronavirus on your site — this is unnecessary, not helpful, and overwhelming for your average reader.

  • For very detailed information or guidelines that are geared towards specific audiences (such as healthcare professionals, travelers, pregnant people, etc), point them towards the pages that are written and maintained by the CDC. The CDC has the most reliable and detailed information and directions out there so far. There is no reason to duplicate and maintain this content separately. Coronavirus.gov, the coronavirus information portal created and maintained by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, is a great example of how to do this well. The vast majority of the buttons and links in the below screenshot link out to pages on the CDC site.

The media will likely be looking at your site as well, so that they can distribute information from the government for the public. It is a good idea to have a section on your website for “Press Releases and Media” where the media can go and easily find information specifically for them.