Cartographies of COVID-19: Our Unclear Path Forward

12. Even if the rates have infection rates slow, however unevenly, and we continue careful habits, the persistent presence of the virus is only beginning to be mapped to allow us to understand how its arrival across the nation in eight to ten weeks–even as the virus infected over 50,000 Chinese, even experts were in denial. If “everybody was in denial that this was coming–including the U.S.–and everybody got hit,” the director of a major infectious disease research center at Laval University observed ruefully with what can hardly be called the benefit of retrospect. Are we only coming to terms with how to read maps of what a pandemic–as it was declared by the World Health Organization in mid-March–looks like?

As we remain indoors, looking with regularity at data visualizations of the progression of infection, uncertain about actual data counts or numbers of infected. We look at screens, far more than people, between reaching for the telephone or our email, negotiating pieces as if isolated details about incubation periods, accounts of the loss of smell, or fearful transmission of droplets, we lack a clear scale to imagine the spread of COVID-19, but are compelled to regain some purchase on its spread for sanity. We turn to maps to gain some purchase on the outbreak, that leaves our most recent mid-April choropleths entirely stained pink–

April 13/The Guardian/Hopkins CSSE

–that shifted the symbolic durability of dot density maps made from mid-March in the New York Times and other outlets of the nation into a continent suddenly dipped in pink. The map acknowledges the uncertain testing of all populations of the nation. But it also suggest the stress tests of local governments, both in managing the epidemic as a public health crisis and containing the virus’ spread. Earlier dot-density distributions of confirmed cases had already spread across the country, as we waited for their incubation periods to mature, and the sequence of daily maps, that punctuated the news cycle like stills from an animated map that was unfolding before our eyes, was a sort of tipping point from the the maps of individual cases as they spread across the interior of the nation by March 31, as the coastal outbreaks in metro areas moved across all fifty states.


Filed under data visualization, disease maps, infectious diseases, public health, US Politics

2 responses to “Cartographies of COVID-19: Our Unclear Path Forward

  1. Rachel brownstein

    It is amazing that his response is to close the borders. Has to be something weirder than denial, as you suggest. Border closing as both cause and “cure”.

    • The denial seems cognitive, but inability to acknowledge the responsibility of governments suggests a stunning lack of prioritizing public health safety. The script of demonizing foreign countries was on auto loop, and the world will suffer!

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