‘How the virus won’

The work entitled ‘How the virus won’ has been awarded the prize of Best Map Miguel Urabayen Award (Print). The work was published in The New York Times (USA) and part of the team behind the piece shares with us some of what went in to creating the piece and the challenges they faced.


Could you briefly explain the idea of the story? 

Much of the early outbreak in the United States was invisible to the public. We weren’t testing, and so the virus was spreading invisibly throughout the country without anybody knowing the full extent of the problem. We wanted to represent this invisible spread — the reality — in order to show why the American response to the outbreak was so catastrophic.

What was the process of working on the graphic? 

We started with months of reporting: We worked with a range of disease modelers, geneticists and other researchers who could help us understand how the virus entered the country and spread. We also analyzed detailed travel data that showed how Americans moved around the country. Much of this research was first published as part of this story. We collected case reports from around the country to identify specific key moments, and we paired this with key actions by public officials that underestimated the threat.

What has been the challenge of this story?

Uncertainty is a central aspect of any outbreak. We can make educated guesses, but we can’t know everything. At the same time, we wanted to present a coherent narrative of the overall arc of what happened: the initial, creeping threat; the ineffectiveness of our response to stop it; and the devastation of knowing thousands of deaths could have been avoided. It was challenging to merge all the different things we wanted to visualize in a cohesive way. Visualizations of animated dots (online) and proportional lines (in print) guided readers’ understanding of how the outbreaks spread.


How have you worked this year?

Some things are harder working remotely: It’s more difficult to sketch, to casually share ideas. For print specifically, it was challenging not being able to proof the pages to make sure colors and everything else worked. But working remotely was not the main difficulty, and we were still able to fully collaborate. We were helped by having years of experience working together, so it was easier to move quickly.



Josh Keller

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