Lessons learned through visualizing COVID-19

US Covid Atlas
Jun 10, 2021 · 4 min read

By Kenna Camper

Kenna Camper is a graduating senior at the University of Chicago. For the last year, she has worked as a Research Assistant with the US Covid Atlas Project and Center for Spatial Data Science.

Editor’s note: The US COVID Atlas team is grateful for the work that Kenna has contributed over the past year, including generating stunning graphics (some of which are featured below) and compelling insights for the Atlas coalition and user community. Congratulations to Kenna & all 2021 graduates!

As summer approaches, I’m about to wrap up a year of working with the US COVID Atlas as a research assistant. Prior to when I began working with the Atlas in the fall, I remember being overwhelmed by the constant news updates about COVID. I saw videos and article headlines that talked about rising case rates and hospitalizations in many cities, but I had no idea what COVID trends looked like across the US. When I joined the Atlas team, I thought it would be a great way to learn more about data visualization and would help me better understand the distribution of cases across states. Through my experience with using the Atlas and researching COVID case and vaccination trends, here are some of the lessons I learned.

@theuscovidatlas vaccination data update Instagram post, May 14th, 2021. Created by Kenna Camper.

The value of visualization in tracking trends

Confirmed case count per 100k pop, 1/17–23/21. Graphic created by Kenna Camper.

Disparities in healthcare

Confirmed case count per 100k pop with dot density map overlay.

Contextualizing data in the real world

St. Louis Arch visualization from the All of Our US COVID Deaths project

Similarly, I’ve learned about the importance of viewing large amounts of data and individual stories together. Seeing state and county level COVID cases and vaccination data on the map of the U.S. gave me a sense of what the state of the pandemic was like across the country, and hearing personal stories showed me how those statistics were impacting people’s daily lives. By looking at hotspots on the Atlas with overlays of racial and ethnic groups, reading research about disparities in vaccine distributions, and hearing people talk about their experiences with living in vulnerable communities, I could see the connection between the data and individual people.

This past year, the pandemic changed everyone’s lives — but certain groups were disproportionately impacted more than others. Working on research for the Atlas showed me the importance of data visualization in uncovering and bringing to light these issues that are hidden in data. Reflecting on my work with the Atlas communications team, I’m thankful for how much this experience taught me about interpreting data and trends and for the opportunity to share this information with others through this blog and social media.

Atlas Insights

The latest updates, research findings, and views from the US COVID Atlas.

Atlas Insights

The Atlas Insights blog is the home for the latest updates, research findings, and views from the US COVID Atlas, led by the Healthy Regions & Policies Lab and the Center for Spatial Data Science at University of Chicago.

US Covid Atlas

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The US COVID Atlas is a near real-time visualization tool that helps you access county-level COVID data & spatial analysis. Led by University of Chicago.

Atlas Insights

The Atlas Insights blog is the home for the latest updates, research findings, and views from the US COVID Atlas, led by the Healthy Regions & Policies Lab and the Center for Spatial Data Science at University of Chicago.