Work on this map of COVID-19 spread spanned nearly 11 months

Work on this map of COVID-19 spread spanned nearly 11 months

Nearly 11 months ago, the Massachusetts Department of Public health began issuing reports which showed how many COVID-19 cases had been diagnosed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But there was a problem.

The pandemic had already been going on for nearly three months, and there was no data released for individual communities during that earlier period.

So I asked for the missing data through a records request.

After a few weeks passed without getting the data, I took a page from the Shawshank Redemption and decided to write to the DPH officials once a week. I kept this up for several weeks and in response received phone calls from a department spokesperson and a lawyer.

Then, after a few more weeks, it was late summer. Unlike the protagonist in the Shawshank Redemption, I did not redouble my efforts. I gave up and almost forgot about the request.

Until a few days ago when the response from DPH finally arrived.

It took several days to organize the data and translate it into a useful visualization, but I was able to develop map and advance it one day at a time to create an animation that shows how the pandemic progressed. It was slow work, but I’m really pleased with how it turned out.

In addition to being a great visual for social media, it also led to the generation of an embeddable map, which I featured in an article, and video for use in the television newscast.

Most communities did detect their first positive case of the virus within those first few months, but not all. To complete the map for all 351 cities and towns I had to expand my search to the first nine months of weekly reports.

Ironically, if I had received the data sooner, I would not have been able to finish the map. I found that the final community to report a positive case of COVID-19 did not do so until approximately one year after the pandemic began.