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How Effective Data Visualizations Enable Us To Understand Covid-19 Pandemic Better

How Effective Data Visualizations Enable Us To Understand Covid-19 Pandemic Better

Data Visualization
W3Schools

Amid a barrage of information on Covid-19, processing the relevant material can be challenging. While some have completely disconnected themselves from the news cycle, others are regularly tracking their news feed to better understand how to combat Covid-19.

This necessitates that they not only get access to verified information of these developments, but also pick up valuable insights from the massive amount of data that has been generated in the last few months across the world. 

In this setting, data visualization tools have allowed people to understand and absorb information in a quick and accurate manner.



Softwares like Tableau and Microsoft Power BI have helped synthesize these complex networks of events by visualizing data, detecting hidden patterns and turning them into illustrated stories. Without relying on people to sift through quantitative data or numbers on a spreadsheet, this allows them to obtain information relevant to their situation and thereby, react better.

This could be achieved by shaping the timeline of the pandemic, documenting the spread of the virus in a particular area, and identifying hotspots, among others. What is more, these diverse sets of visualizations have also helped political leaders and community members strategize more effectively, thereby, having quite a real-world impact in the face of this crisis.

Importance Of Visualization Amid Massive Data

As cases of Covid-19 proliferate across the globe, so has data associated with it. This includes information on the number of affected patients, the number of people they are likely to infect, equipment that is available for healthcare workers, as well as the death and recovery rates, among others.

This data needs to be efficiently conveyed to people, since in the event of a pandemic like this, intuition cannot substitute for facts to understand how the spread is advancing. The approach that is needed should involve analysing, sharing and leveraging data.

Here, visualizing the data can help explain the developing events in a clear and succinct way for people to interpret data well, tease out patterns, and pick up on trends. 

The Coronavirus Resource Center dashboard from Johns Hopkins University has emerged as a reliable source that gives both a micro and macro view on the pandemic. Incorporating data from various organizations including WHO, the platform is updated daily with rich infographics on the Covid-19 outbreak.


(Image via Johns Hopkins University on April 7, 2020)

ALSO READ: Tableau Makes Johns Hopkins Covid-19 Data Available In Its Data Resource Hub

Adds More Context

The above image is likely to get the attention of Indian readers, especially those who have been tracking the rise of Covid-19 cases in India. And this may be applicable for readers anywhere across the globe. While they may dismiss stories developing at another corner of the world, they would tend to react to data associated with their own circumstances.

While this image only captures the cases of infected people and related trends, infographics on the number of hospitals in your area, its capacity to treat Covid-19 patients, the rate at which cases are being detected and the number of people requiring hospitalization will be information that you will be interested in knowing. And so should be, given that this kind of dissemination of information has helped contain the outbreak.

It has yielded unprecedented behavioral changes, one example being the concept of ‘flattening the curve’, successfully illustrated in various data visualization charts. This has motivated the public to practice social distancing, and thereby, actively participate in combating Covid-19. 

Done correctly, like Washington Post has is this interactive piece, it engages readers, is persuasive, and increases empathy, opening up the public to change.

(Image via World Economic Forum)

ALSO READ: Are Too Many Data Scientists Trying to Predict Covid-19 Outcomes in Futility?

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Helps Refine Strategies

With countries across the world putting travel restrictions in place – and some, like India, enforcing nation-wide lockdowns – visual representations of massive data has helped inform these strategies.

For example, Colorado in the US has taken various proactive measures to use Tableau to visualize the outbreak’s progression. The website is updated everyday at 4pm, giving epidemiologists enough time to review the data and improve its accuracy.

It comprises a case summary of the entire state, including the number of cases, those hospitalized, number of people tested, and the number of deaths recorded. 

Even the government of India has been representing key data points visually. An interactive depiction of this has been created by a student of IIT-Bombay as well, as shown below.

However, it is important to note that although such representations relay information in a precise and pithy manner, they may not always convey the entire story and hence, need to be understood in conjunction with associated data.

This is because it is difficult to represent time visually, and given that this is a pandemic, it plays a critical role when charting strategies to combat it. Also, some factors are difficult to measure, including uncertainty, which also has a big part to play in this.

Outlook

Even as the value of data visualization amid Covid-19 has been discussed, it also demands that people at the helm of this data use it responsibly, given that their interpretation of information on a critical subject like the COVID-19 outbreak is likely to influence how people see, understand, and react to it.

They should recreate it in such a way that it relays the necessary information, and reflects reality in the larger context – data that can inform decisions and drive change.

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