City of Chelsea’s COVID-19 Monthly Report Project

Using visual design to convey COVID-19 information relevant to the community

By Mansi Khandpekar —

Hello there! I’m Mansi Khandpekar, and I joined the Colubri lab at UMass Chan Medical School in July 2022 as a UX design intern. The lab brings together computational scientists, software developers, and visual designers to create new methods and tools for epidemiological modeling, digital health, visualization of biomedical data, and STEM education.

One of the projects I worked on in the lab was the City of Chelsea’s COVID-19 Wastewater Monitoring Report, a collaboration with the City of Chelsea, Mass General Hospital, and the Center of Complex Interventions (CCI).

Chelsea is a city close to Boston with an estimated population of 55,000 people. The population is predominantly Latino, and many of its residents find employment as essential workers. This demographic has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. The city has installed sampling equipment at the sewage treatment plants to keep track of the trends in COVID-19 cases in the city. Wastewater monitoring can provide early warning in advance of spikes in the number of cases, and the Center for Disease Control runs a national-wide program that aggregates data from most states in the US. The concentration of virus in the wastewater provides the decision makers of the city to take the appropriate actions to safeguard public health.

The wastewater monitoring data from the city of Chelsea can be accessed online using an interactive visualization tool from the Chelsea Project, a grassroots endeavor, part of CCI, to create a long-term, self-sustaining, and resilient public health system. However, the main audience for this tool is experts who are familiar with complex visualizations of public health data such as this one. The challenge was to distill the patterns in the data into clear and easy-to-understand messages for the general population in Chelsea, informing them about the overall trends in COVID-19 levels as seen in wastewater (high, medium, low) in order to promote preventive behaviors (i.e., masking) as well as to provide links to important resources (vaccines, treatments) that the city offers for free.

Therefore, my role as the information designer on this project was to create a visual display to clearly indicate the wastewater COVID levels for the month, the actions that one could take to prevent the spike of cases in the community, and where to find the resources offered by the city.

The Design Process

My first step as the designer was gathering and categorizing the essential actionable information that the experts needed to convey to the community and how this information is going to be presented to the community. From early discussions with the collaborators, we learned that the main platform for communication between the city and the community is the city’s Facebook page. This meant that a digital static infographic that could be posted, updated, and shared on the Facebook feed would be the most effective way to reach out to the community.

The next critical part was conveying the COVID levels in wastewater clearly and concisely. For this, we came up with the idea of a gauge to denote the viral concentrations in the wastewater. The three levels — low, medium, and high — provide a straightforward action plan. When the levels are high, the actionable points are to wear a mask, get tested if you are symptomatic, stay up to date on your vaccines, and obtain free antiviral treatment if sick. I accompanied each one of these points with illustrations that emphasize the message and add visual consistency to the infographic while using a clean and approachable style.

To make the infographic more specific to the City of Chelsea, I incorporated visual elements to the infographic denoting local landmarks, such as the Chelsea City Hall. The image below shows the final infographic, representing the high-risk level:

Since this infographic will be used as a monthly report to be posted on the city’s Facebook page, one of the requirements was to make it a template that the decision-makers could quickly adapt depending on the latest wastewater monitoring data:

Finally, the fact that a majority of the population in Chelsea are Spanish speakers, with a significant percentage being more fluent in Spanish than English, implied that we had to create a Spanish version of all the infographics, whose text was provided by Cristina Alonso from CCI.

This was a quick-turnaround project, initially motivated by conversations with Dr. Regina LaRocque from the Division of Infectious Diseases at Mass General Hospital about the expected increase in COVID transmission in the Fall/Winter due to school and people congregating indoors more frequently. We were able to go from idea to final design in a matter of weeks, and the infographics are already being used to provide this report on a monthly basis to the Chelsea community. We hope this project helps in keeping people healthy!

Many thanks to Drs. Regina LaRocque, Dr. Julie Levison, and Andrés Colubri, as well as the rest of the team for their constant feedback in the design process. Finally, I would like to thank Dr. Colubri for the opportunity to bring me aboard this project and for taking the time and efforts to revise this article.

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Colubri Lab at the University of Massachusetts Medical School

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Colubri Lab at the University of Massachusetts Medical School