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CDC rolls out new COVID-19 website

The reworked COVID-19 website is part of a larger push to make the public health agency’s web presence easier to navigate, with plans to relaunch early next year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a reworked COVID-19 website on Thursday, intended to make the online hunt for reliable public health information easier.

The improvements are part of a larger effort to refurbish the online presence of the health agency, which plans to relaunch early next year. 

For now, the COVID-19 website will largely look and feel the same. It just has less stuff. 

“What we’ve kept is what people are looking for,” said Carol Crawford, the CDC’s director of the digital media division, who’s leading the agency’s “Clean Slate” effort to overhaul the CDC’s website. “We’ve gotten rid of clutter and anything that could distract them from finding what they need.”

Technical and health communications experts cut the website down from over 4,000 PDFs and HTML pages to about 760 PDFs and 220 HTML pages, although old pages will be on an page, the agency says.

Both the COVID-19 website and overhaul are part of the agency’s larger reform effort, dubbed “CDC Moving Forward,” announced following a 2022 review of the agency’s response to the pandemic.

Public health communication and ability to translate complicated science into understandable policies were both flagged as problems in that review.

“Traditional scientific and communication processes were inadequate to accelerate quickly and effectively respond to a crisis the size and scope of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the review says.

“People were just overwhelmed with the vast amount of information we had,” Crawford said about the old COVID-19 website.

As for why the agency is doing this now, given the end of the public health emergency in the United States and COVID global health emergency as defined by the World Health Organization, Crawford said that the public still visits the CDC’s COVID-19 site for information. 

“We still get about 104 million page views to the COVID site, just in the last six months,” she said. “It’s still a top site for CDC, and obviously we want it to be the best website it can be.”

Culling the COVID-19 website’s content came up as a “target of opportunity” during the larger push to modernize, said Kevin Griffis, the CDC’s director of the office of communications.

Although the changes to the pandemic website are a “mini version of our cleanup process” for the overall rework, that larger refurbishment will actually look distinct from the current website, with different navigation, content formats and other optimizations, in addition to less clutter, said Crawford. 

Long-term, the agency wants to use tools and methods to be “more strategic,” she said, “so that we don’t overwhelm with information going forward.”

That push includes better using automation to manage the CDC’s websites, Crawford added.

“Our navigation is not automated,” she said. “So you add a page [and] the web developers have to go and add pages on multiple things, remember to update links — this is all going to be more automated,” making it easier for the CDC to keep up with its ever-growing content over time.

New tools are also in the works to “to allow content owners to better see the entire ecosystem,” she said. “Based on the communication goal for a specific piece of content… or their audience for the content, they're going to be presented with other content that is similar that's already on the site.”

CDC staffers can also expect to see data about what information people are searching for online as part of their content creation process, as well as a push for plain language. 

“We want to be sure that there’s the straightest path possible to finding information that’s going to help you protect your health,” said Griffis. “Whatever we can do to clarify that process… is important in a period of time when there is so much information that’s out there.”