Over the last two months many of us have encountered a variety of COVID-19 maps, charts and other kinds of data visualizations. Hopefully they have been informative and led to a better understanding of the current pandemic. While no one dateset or visualization can truly capture the entire complicated picture of COVID-19, below are a few good examples that offer insight into what is happening in the United States and other countries, as well as what we might expect to see in the future. These visualizations serve to highlight particular trends in the COVID-19 data that we are able to collect, but come with their own caveats. We can make the most accurate and informed observations by understanding the limitations of how data is collected and organized, analyzing the added context of trusted news sources, and analyzing how the visualizations were put together.
1) John Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center Dashboard
Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center created this world map dashboard that highlights confirmed cases of COVID-19 by country and U.S. state, as well as other key counts such as total death (by country) and people tested (by U.S. state). The other two tabs within the dashboard offer a deeper dive into the U.S. states/counties, and allow users to find answers to questions: “Has the curve flattened?” with supporting evidence and visualizations.
2) Washington Post ‘Corona Simulator’
In March when COVID-19 turned into a pandemic, we started hearing several buzzwords and phrases: “Flattening the curve,” “social distancing,” and “quarantine.” It was difficult for most of us to understand what these words really meant. How do social distancing and quarantine actually help to flatten the curve? The Washington Post’s “Corona Simulator,” and the story behind it, communicated how the implementation of social distancing and quarantine policies would affect a small town of 200 people, using simple visual examples. They also took into account the the level of policy-compliance. Visualizations like these help inform and explain to the public how and why certain public health decisions are made.
3) Center for Disease Control COVID Data Tracker
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the U.S. national health protection agency, and a reliable resource for information about COVID-19. In addition to the number of cases, deaths and people tested, this resource shows school closures and other social impacts of the pandemic. It also includes state-by-state status of business openings/closings, healthcare facilities, state of emergency status, lock-down/shelter in place status, etc. While referring to an individual states’ website for updates is always the best course of action in keeping up to date with how each state is handling COVID-19, this is a good place to compare how all states are handling things.
4) Ohio Department of Health COVID-19 Dashboard
For those interested in COVID-19 as it relates to Ohio, the Ohio Department of Health put together this dashboard using the data visualization software, Tableau, that shows most of the pertinent measurements by county. The “current trends” tab provides a glimpse at the past five days of cases, deaths and hospitalizations due to the Coronavirus. Other tabs such as “forecast model,” give a sense of the difference between an unmitigated spread of the virus and a mitigated spread, through data modeled by the epidemiologists at Ohio State’s Infectious Disease Institute.
5) New York Times ‘How Coronavirus Hijacks Your Cells’
Another article from March features illustrations explaining how the Coronavirus slips into cells to replicate and spread. Illustrations make it easier to zoom into the microscopic world of viruses and cells, and understand what makes COVID-19 so dangerous. This article offers a more detailed explanation – both visually and in text – to show where possible vaccine solutions may target, as well as how soap effectively destroys the virus.
6) Datawrapper Responsible Live Visualizations
Data is often uncertain, and this is definitely true with COVID-19 as new cases emerge every day. When visualizing these ever-changing live datasets, a great deal of care has to be taken to ensure precise language, design and visuals. The software Datawrapper confronts this ambiguity and demonstrates how different design choices within a visualization can affect the nuance of the message to the audience.
7) Vox: “How Coronavirus Charts Can Mislead Us”
You may have seen a visualization tracking all the cases of the Coronavirus by country (original from the John Burn-Murdoch at the Financial Times). Vox takes an in-depth look at how small choices in the way data is visualized and designed, can have a huge impact on our understanding of what is going on. Thinking critically about what “confirmed cases” really means (hint: it’s also a reflection of the aggressiveness each country is handling testing) and how a linear vs. a log scale impacts our interpretation, are vital questions to help make more insightful observations and come to better informed decisions.