Georgia’s COVID-19 Maps: Bad Faith or Bad Design?

In How to Lie with Maps, Mark Monmonier warns that map readers “must watch out for statistical maps carefully contrived to prove the points of self-promoting scientists, manipulating politicians, misleading advertisers, and other propagandists. Meanwhile, this is an area in which the widespread use of mapping software has made unintentional cartographic self-deception inevitable.”1

So which of these two scenarios—careful contrivance or unintentional self-deception—is at play on the Georgia Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 daily status report page?

Twitter user @andishehnouraee notes the difference in scale between two county-by-county COVID-19 maps of Georgia. The earlier map maxes out at 4,661 cases per 100,000, the later (and as of this writing, current) map maxes out at 5,165 cases per 100,000. As they point out, there has been a 49 percent rise in total COVID-19 cases between the two maps, but you wouldn’t know it at a glance, because the scales have changed in the meantime.

Is this, as @andishehnouraee suggests, a concerted attempt to hide the severity of the outbreak in Georgia—or, as T. J. Jankun-Kelly thinks might be the case, something that happens when you max out the old scale. In other words: bad faith or bad design? (Or both: it can be both.)

Update 19 Jul: See Twitter threads from Darrell Fuhriman and Jon Schwabish disagreeing with critiques of the Georgia Public Health maps. It’s worth clarifying that only one map is ever viewable at the website: the map’s scale has changed over time, but it’s not like they’re side-by-side except in @andishehnouraee’s tweet.

Update #2: See Jon Schwabish’s blog post critiquing the data visualization critique in more detail.

Mapping Mask Wearing in the United States

The New York Times (screenshot)

Wearing a mask in public is increasingly being encouraged or required as a measure to slow the spread of COVID-19. The New York Times maps the rate of mask wearing in the United States. The county-level map is based on more than 250,000 responses to a survey conducted in early July, in which interviewees were asked how often they wore a mask in public.

The map shows broad regional patterns: Mask use is high in the Northeast and the West, and lower in the Plains and parts of the South. But it also shows many fine-grained local differences. Masks are widely worn in the District of Columbia, but there are sections of the suburbs in both Maryland and Virginia where norms seem to be different. In St. Louis and its western suburbs, mask use seems to be high. But across the Missouri River, it falls.

[MAPS-L]

Mapping COVID-19 Exposure Risk at Events

Screenshot

The COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool is a county-by-county map of the U.S. that shows the risk of coming into contact with a COVID-positive individual at an event. “This site provides interactive context to assess the risk that one or more individuals infected with COVID-19 are present in an event of various sizes. The model is simple, intentionally so, and provided some context for the rationale to halt large gatherings in early-mid March and newly relevant context for considering when and how to re-open.” A slider changes the size of the event; risk goes up dramatically with bigger events, of course. Which you’d think would be intuitively obvious. You’d really think so, wouldn’t you. [Cartophilia]

A County-by-County COVID-19 Map

Screenshot

COVD-19 is hitting the United States very hard right now. This interactive map from the Harvard Global Health Institute measures COVID-19 risk at the county level. The four colour-coded risk levels are based on a seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: less than one means green (“on track for containment”); more than 25 means red (“tipping point”). It’s explained here. [Matthew Edney]

Pandemic Mapping and Posterity

The flurry of COVID-19 maps that have emerged in the first half of this year will be something that future cartographers and librarians will look back on, both in terms of historical records that need preserving, which is the subject of this CityLab interview with Library of Congress map librarian John Hessler, and in terms of best practices for disease mapping—what to do and what not to do when mapping a pandemic—which is the subject of this Financial Times video interview with Kenneth Field. (Both from early May; I’m playing catchup right now.)

Library of Congress Livestream on the History of Pandemic Maps

Tomorrow (23 April 2020), the Library of Congress will be livestreaming No One Was Immune: Mapping the Great Pandemics from Columbus to COVID-19, in which John Hessler and Marie Arana will “discuss the sweep of history from the 1500s smallpox pandemic that decimated the indigenous population of the Americas to the meticulous work that is being done now to map COVID-19.” To be streamed on the Library’s Facebook page and YouTube channel at 7 PM EDT. [WMS]