Data visualization and the pandemic spread

Visualization   |   
Published October 2, 2020   |   

With just about everyone stuck at home to reduce the spread of COVID-19, lots of people are taking an interest in following the progression of the virus data and understanding what it means. Health experts, economists, and others who are trying to mitigate the damage the virus has caused use data to give context to their recommendations, while local governments use it to create temporary policies that are intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Data visualization has been an important tool in this pandemic for several reasons. Because this is a modern outbreak, we have the ability to use the internet to collect and share information. But we still need visualization to help us understand the data and put it to use. Here are some of the ways visualization is helping to track the pandemic’s spread.

Analytics Helping Identify & Address Potential Outbreaks 

Thanks to globalization, people are moving around more than ever. While that’s good in many ways, it’s also made it difficult to contain the virus and to track its movements. Although data alone can’t stop transmissions, using big data analytics to track cases can help to identify regions that may soon experience outbreaks.

Identifying outbreaks early is key to reducing the spread of the virus. If an area is likely to become a hotspot, local governments can step in and recommend or mandate measures like increasing hygiene, social distancing, shutdowns, and mask-wearing. Having a continuous flow of data can help to address outbreaks before they get out of control.

Data Visualizations Expanding Public Knowledge 

Data can be difficult to interpret without visualization, especially for the average person. In the past, it was difficult to educate the public using data because it required more specialized knowledge and it was challenging to share visualizations with a larger audience. Today, with the internet and strong data visualization tools, public knowledge is expanding rapidly and people are getting a greater understanding of the types of data and how to interpret visualizations.

It’s important for people to absorb and understand COVID-19 data since we’re all involved in stopping the spread. The more educated we can be, the better. With that said, we also have to acknowledge that there are misleading visualizations out there that can spread misinformation and spark behavior that actually leads to greater spread.

People need to educate themselves with resources and available data visualizations during the pandemic but they also need to be mindful of the source. Many visualizations come from unreliable sources and should not automatically be taken as fact.

There Have Been a Ton of Great Data Visualizations Developed for COVID

Because the COVID-19 pandemic has been all-consuming, lots of people who are skilled in data analysis and visualization have been creating charts and maps showcasing the virus’s spread. Many of the brightest minds at universities and research facilities all over the world have been gathering data and continuously updating their visualizations to provide accurate, up-to-the-minute information on what the virus is doing.

These visualizations have been helpful for people who are actively working on solutions to fight the virus, but they are also valuable for people who are trying to calculate their own personal risks and understand the virus. It’s important for everyone to see just how much COVID-19 has affected our country and our world. Numbers speak, but a visual heat map or a graph can sometimes speak that much louder.

Can Data Visualizations Help for What’s Next? 

The fallout from the pandemic is already huge. Aside from the deaths and lingering health problems that many people are experiencing after recovering from COVID-19, the virus has caused economic devastation and many other societal issues. Those issues won’t be resolved for years, even if a vaccine is developed or a cure is found.

So, can data visualizations help us manage what comes next? Possibly. In order to manage the next pandemic more effectively, we need to make strides in the field of public health and prepare ourselves for the next new disease. The more we can use data to predict and understand the kinds of threats we might face due to the disease itself and the surrounding issues, the better equipped we’ll be to save as many lives as possible.