The Geography of COVID-19 (Part 4): The Great Pause

The Geography of COVID-19 (Part 4): The Great Pause

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We are still tallying the serious toll of the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to ebb and flow around the world.  During this nearly 100 days of global lockdown in various forms there has also been a curious revelation of common experience.  This is in juxtaposition to the uncertainty of the vagaries of the virus, the exposure of injustice, and the profound loss of life.  In April of 2020, Julio Vincent Gambuto framed this common experience as The Great Pause.  He writes:

The crisis has given us a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see ourselves and our country in the plainest way. At no other time, ever in our lives, have we gotten the opportunity to see what would happen if the world simply stopped. 

The Great Pause gave us respite to reflect on the limitations of a globalized economy and those left behind. Similarly, researchers examining the impacts of COVID-19 due to reduced human mobility and wildlife activity proposed the term Anthropause. The COVID-19 Bio-Logging initiative tracks changes in animal behavior due to the lockdown, working from home and an increased interest in the outdoors.  Hosted by Movebank, the initiative is part of an effort to map data of animal tracking overlaid on human population density.  Whatever term you choose, The Great Pause or Anthropause,  this moment is a time to consider the unintended consequences of slowing down the world.

Allison Pearson quotes the poet, Theodore Roethke: “In dark times, the eye begins to see.”  The change was at first subtle, the silence of empty streets met with the sudden outburst of birdsong. Contrail-less skies and fewer car trips resulted in clearer, bluer skies. The Great Pause transformed our everyday geography where we rediscovered our sense of place in our neighborhoods and  local communities. The Cities and Memory project tracks what the world sounds like due to stay-at-home orders and provides an interactive map of sounds from the global COVID-19 lockdown.

At the most fundamental level, COVID-19 has created a highly circumscribed geography in our daily lives manifested by social-distancing, stay at home orders, and long walks. Betsy Mason writes how social distancing has “shrunk everyone’s physical world into an extremely local space.”  The City Lab invites readers to share hand-made maps of life under lockdown here.  These mental maps have long been tools of geographers to map places infused with meaning, emotion, and cultural ties.  How one conveys the world through sketch maps and drawings is unique to them, a reflection of personal experience. The New York Times invited people to “Make Your Own Illustrated Map”.

Through staying at home our virtual world expanded.  Our social space includes video conference calls that provide an aperture into people’s houses with a view to bookshelves, artwork, and family photos. Alternatively, people are opting for background of places they have been – using pictures from past travels as a backdrop linking home and globe in yet another way (while hiding messy rooms).

Exploration of the home space is encouraged by the numerous sites that offer ideas about staycations that emulate the feeling of travel and have a geographic nuance. For example, sleep in a different part of your house. Set up a tent and camp outside. Take a different route for your daily walk. Explore your hometown. Time and space blend together to create a place for creative activities and home projects.

Complementing the exploration of the home space and local neighborhoods is an increasing interest in virtual travel.  Multiple sites provide museum exhibits, art galleries, concert halls, and journeys to far-off lands through virtual reality experiences.  What does travel mean in the age of COVID-19?  You may visit places you never thought to consider – such as a virtual underwater tour of a 17th-Century Shipwreck  or a trip to Mars. Here is a list of the best virtual travel tours. The world is literally at our fingertips, on our desktop, or in our laps.

A further reflection on place is in considerations of “where I work” leading to why do I live here?  Newly remote workers (primarily white-collar workers) coupled with the enhancement of teleworking and virtual conference calling are leading some to ponder the need to be physically located near their offices – and opt to be closer to family or smaller cities. It will be worth tracking relocation across the United States as economies and states reopen.

In these unusual times, space and time have intersected in unfamiliar ways providing a period for reflection.  The Great Pause or the Anthropause reveals the new geography of everyday life where adaptations are part of personal decisions about social distancing and self-isolation.  However, this interval has shown the collective resiliency of the human spirit and the ability to connect across space and time through evening singing from China to Italy, beating pans in the London to New York, to howling in Colorado.


*The Geospatial Centroid Rapid Response Team is committed to:

  • Helping to identify and examine emergent issues
  • Illustrating the spatial nature of the most current challenges
  • Elevating spatial thinking in science-based decision making

Geospatial Centroid Staff: Melinda Laituri, Sophia Linn, Dan Carver

Geospatial Centroid Interns: Arian Brazenwood, Luke Chamberlain, Caroline Norris

The Geography of COVID-19 (Part 3): Maps and Society

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Maps have the capacity to tell powerful stories about people and places. When informed by human geography data – data about who lives where and characteristics about gender, ethnicity, age, employment, mortality, and education rate—they can provide insights into the social, economic, and political context of novel phenomena, including COVID-19. What has emerged about the pandemic is a complex story of uncertainty and vulnerability where the virus defies generalities, manifesting itself differently in different places. However, early data reveal the susceptibility to the virus of those who are older, poorer, and brown. These populations are exponentially more at-risk. In addition to revealing vulnerable populations, maps can also tell stories about depleted local economies, stressed supply chains, and the newly circumscribed parameters of movement (or lack thereof) in our everyday lives.


We examined several sites that demonstrate the coincidence of human geography data and the virus. These sites reveal the following: 1) the relationship of vulnerable people and the virus to inequitable outcomes; 2) the integration of economic data with geographic information to track the intersection of global companies and small businesses in moving essential items to market; and 3) the use of mobile technologies in managing our personal geographic space in everyday life in an increasingly politicized environment.

Identifying vulnerable populations

Several sites demonstrate the power of maps to tell the story of vulnerable populations. Spatially overlaying US census, other socio-economic information, and disease data reveals where demographic conditions affect the coronavirus spread and transmission. These data expose the linkages between racial disparities, underlying economic conditions, and poverty.  This crisis magnifies  fundamental inequities that require robust data to track the virus in at-risk populations as well as identify innovative solutions for both economic and community health.

  • The Johns Hopkins site, State COVID-19 Data by Race, identifies US states that have released COVID-19 data by race broken down by confirmed cases, deaths, and testing. The site highlights expert opinion on the importance of race/ethnicity data to influence the pandemic response. However, these data are not easy to find; the actual data of the cases, deaths and testing are located on each state’s public health agency website. Importantly, not all states report racial and ethnic data for cases and deaths – a critical gap in the data record.
  • Jovion’s Community Vulnerability Map is an interactive platform that displays the projected risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes by census block in the US overlaid with socio-economic and environmental factors (e.g., access to employment; transportation availability; exposure to air pollution). This map demonstrates the integration of US census data and the Center for Disease Control’s Social Vulnerability Index with COVID-19 case data to inform community response.
  • The Kaiser Family Foundation’s interactive map displays confirmed cases and deaths of COVID-19 by race and ethnicity. Using data collected from CDC COVID database and data from states, the site exposes cases/deaths by race/ethnicity. Early in the pandemic it was evident that the virus impacts people of color disproportionately. Understanding and identifying where these populations are located is essential for community planning, response, saving lives, and adaptation to a “post-virus” world.
  • The APM Research Lab conducted a study on COVID-19 deaths by race and ethnicity. Thirty-nine states, including the District of Columbia, report deaths by race and ethnicity.  Searching by state reveals where racial disproportionality in COVID-related mortality exists.

There are few maps that track vulnerable populations and COVID-19 in middle and low income countries around the world. Others track the virus spread through vulnerable populations, such as refugees, providing important baseline data about social conditions in countries around the world:

  • The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Coronavirus Response provides maps by country that describe efforts to provide medical supplies and equipment, mobilize doctors and nurses, and provide shelters.
  • Refugees International provides a comprehensive report on refugees and the humanitarian response needed for the COVID-19 outbreak. Unfortunately, there are no maps in this report.

These sites reveal the dearth of data, particularly at sub-country scales, that is essential for future planning. Fortunately, the pandemic has instigated global cooperation through multiple scientific studies looking into demographics, pre-existing conditions and genetics.

These studies demonstrate the integration of big data from multiple sources in a geospatial context to better understand the underlying characteristics of COVID-19’s transmission and spread.


Tracking economic conditions

Clearly, a devastating outcome of the pandemic has been its impact on the global economy. Economic indicators, a key component of human geography data, provide numeric interpretations of economic impacts and long term recovery trajectories. Coordinating data from the International Monetary Fund and global statistics on gross domestic product (GDP) provides models for forecasting economic recovery by country.

The integration of supply chain analysis with location-based signatures is the basis for new methods to track and model supply availability. Mapping essential supplies, such as food delivery and personal protective equipment, reveal the fragile connections between global and local supply chains. Sourcemap creates methods to visualize and track supply chains from raw material to product distribution. They provide an overview map on the impact of the virus on select supply chains.

Our everyday geography

To combat the long term impact of COVID-19, we will need to adapt to new practices for managing our personal space. “Flattening the curve” means that we need to understand disease transmission through social distancing and contact tracing. Critical to these efforts to control the virus is an awareness that we need to share data – where sharing personal data is caring for the benefit of society.

  • The Social Distancing scoreboard grades counties across the US on effectiveness of social distancing. The methodology includes three metrics (average mobility, non-essential visits, and human encounters) to calculate and assess the behavioral response before and during the COVID pandemic.
  • Used by public health experts, contact tracing is the process of identifying people who may have been in contact with infected individuals to manage and control further infections of the population. Safe Paths is a free, open source technology that enables users to track location data with infected patients to determine if their paths have crossed.
  • The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Fact Sheet provides an overview of mobile technologies to collect and share data to enhance contact tracing capacity. However, these technologies evoke concerns about individual privacy and who has access to these data.
  • Google and Apple have partnered to create privacy-preserving contact tracing specifications to ensure anonymity in efforts to contact trace.

Increasingly, personal choices about stay-at-home orders and wearing masks have sparked anti-lockdown protests, conflating these practices in the US with constitutional rights and governmental overreach. Spikes in virus cases in reopening economies are evident in many countries as reflected on multiple COVID-19 dashboards. Solutions to the pandemic reside with governments and their ability to mobilize and lead an effective response. Governmental policies from around the world provide guidelines on response, strategies for contract tracing, and economic reopening. Forbes identifies seven countries (Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, and Taiwan) with the best coronavirus responses. These responses include comprehensive contact tracing and testing, mandatory quarantine, lockdown rules, and bans on both international and domestic travel. And interestingly, all of these countries have women leaders. These stories reveal approaches to addressing the pandemic that are tailored to the situation in different places and are sensible, compassionate, and sustainable.

*The Geospatial Centroid Rapid Response Team is committed to:

  • Helping to identify and examine emergent issues
  • Illustrating the spatial nature of the most current challenges
  • Elevating spatial thinking in science-based decision making

Geospatial Centroid Staff: Melinda Laituri, Sophia Linn, Dan Carver

Geospatial Centroid Interns: Arian Brazenwood, Luke Chamberlain, Sam Gudmestad, Caroline Norris

The Geography of COVID-19 (Part 2), Maps and Science

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Science examines the unknown through a process grounded in unbiased observation, systematic experimentation, and reproducible, peer-evaluated results. Geography can be characterized as the science of where and explores questions related to place, location, networks, and diffusion. Many questions related to the current pandemic are geographic in nature and dynamic maps can help other sciences better understand its roots, its spread, and ultimately its management. We examine four geographic questions related to the coronavirus and provide links to maps that help interpret those questions:

(1) Where did the virus start and how has it evolved over space and time?

(2) What geographic conditions contributed to its genesis and its diffusion network?

(3) Where is critical research taking place and how is it being shared?

(4) How can contact tracing and testing help control the spread?

Viruses evolve rapidly over time because they reproduce quickly. “Mapping” the genetic signal, or genome, of COVID-19 is the first step in identifying its structure. The COVID-19 virus has a different genetic makeup in different locations and its genetic blueprint provides the basis for tracking the COVID-19 genome mutation and transmission around the world. Nextstrain is an open platform for scientists and researchers to share real-time tracking of the COVID-19 genome and helps provide the basis for identifying public health interventions. The Nextstrain site provides an animation of the virus’s genetic tree over time based on global sampling, coupled with a world map of the virus transmission.

Mapping the novel coronavirus pandemic tells the emerging story of where the virus originated and how it began to spread. The coronavirus is a zoonotic disease – meaning that it can be transmitted to humans from animals, jumping the most fundamental of boundaries and crossing between species. Evidence suggests that the outbreak can be traced to Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market (Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China), a wet market of open-air stalls selling fresh seafood, meat, fruits and vegetables. Three critical geographic factors further facilitated the spread of the virus: (1) Wuhan is a regional hub of transportation with high-speed rail and domestic flights; (2) the outbreak coincided with the Chinese Lunar New Year – a significant holiday where people travel throughout the country, and (3) the area of southwest China is a rapidly developing region located in a tropical area with high population as well as wildlife diversity. This location is representative of many locations that could be considered zoonotic disease “hotspots”. Understanding where zoonotic hotspots are located can focus attention and direct resources to these regions to better prepare for future viruses that may lead to other pandemics.

The COVID-19 virus has catalyzed an international research effort. These research efforts are being tracked and coordinated built upon WHO’s international roadmap that is cross-cutting and inclusive of both natural and social sciences. WHO has also identified 15 COVID-19 international laboratories with expertise in the molecular detection of the coronavirus and that coordinate with national labs around the world. Partnerships between private companies, universities, governments, and think tanks are hallmarks of the current research being undertaken. Bluedot, a Canadian company, demonstrates how big data can be applied to COVOD-19 research. BlueDot Explorer is a GIS platform that integrates diverse datasets such as global air travel and disease transmission patterns around the world.

Contact tracing and virus testing are tools used to track the spread and surge of the virus. Contact tracing means literally identifying anyone that an infected person comes into contact with prior to becoming ill. Systematic and random virus testing provides critical information to understand the extent of the virus in the population. In the US, there are no governmental maps or databases that publish complete testing data to identify, manage, and plan for relaxing social distancing or reopening businesses. However, the COVID-Tracking Project provides raw data on testing by state in the US; view the map here. Understanding the details of how the virus moves across space is essential to developing effective mitigation options in the future. These data will inform strategies in how to re-open the economy and engage in social activities. However, this practice also further enables governmental surveillance and clash with the fundamentals of civil liberties and privacy concerns.

Geography is central to the COVID-19 story and the underlying science. The pandemic demonstrates the impact across different spatial scales from the molecular to the global. It also reveals the need for conversations across disciplines for comprehensive, innovation solutions. Science is only one piece of the decision making process. How we adapt to new social norms, emerging efforts to track health metrics, and address economic inequities are the challenges exposed by the COVID-19 virus.

Embrace the Space: New Centroid Blog Series

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The Geospatial Centroid at CSU is launching a new blog – Embrace the Space. The intention is to provide a geographic interpretation of current events and timely issues. We begin by writing a series of posts addressing the geographic and multi-faceted aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the use of maps and location-based data, the role of spatial science, and the impact place has on society. This first post focuses on COVID-19 maps and data and provides some initial thoughts on how the spatial perspective can shape our understanding and perception of this remarkable event.  


Part 1:  The Geography of COVID-19 – Maps and Data

Submitted by the Geospatial Centroid Rapid Response Team* 

The current pandemic is a spatial story that crosses boundaries, scales, and cultures and can be told through maps – the language of geographyMaps define space, describe place, and display phenomena that are otherwise invisible on the landscape. They enable us to see patterns, correlate seemingly unrelated data, and observe the world in novel ways. 

What do the maps of COVID-19 tell us about this global event?   

  • First, geography and questions of where are central to this story. Where is it present? Where is it spreading? Where is it most pronounced? Where am I in relation to it?  
  • Second, the geographic concept of scale is important in how the story is depicted –a global, generalized picture tells a significantly different story than the story in my hometown. 
  • Third, place matters – where we live defines access to resources and essential services revealing racial, social, and economic disparities.  

In response to the pandemic, many organizations, individuals, and international communities created websites to share data and information about what was happening, and where. Maps often accompany these sites, helping us “see” the invisible pandemic by tracking and exposing its transmission patterns and spread. Where is the data coming from? At what scale is it being collected and how often? Are the sites interpreting the global extent of the crisis or are they more localized and limited in extent?  

Included below is a selection of map-based COVID-19 sites with commentary on their characteristics, including strengths and caveats to consider. When exploring these sites, we must be cognizant of their limitations and be careful how we interpret their messages and the data they present. 

Same data, different visualizations 

Data dashboards provide a means for sharing multiple data products at a glance. Using maps and charts in tandem provides complementary views of data related to COVID-19 cases and deaths. Although the data sources may be the same, each visualization enables users to see the information differently—some anchored to location in maps or not using charts (WHO COVID-19 DashboardJohns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center).  

Time Series 

Animation and time series maps provide a dynamic view of the viral spread across the world (HealthMap-Covid-19).  These are an effective way to quickly see networks, emerging patterns, and regional dissemination. 

Enhancing value of data 

Data from multiple sources that are considered authoritative (China Centers for Disease Control (CCDC), European CDC (ECDC), US CDC Africa CDCand the World Health OrganizationsWHO) are generally updated daily or, in some cases, in realtimeCommon to all of these sites is the one-dimensional emphasis focusing on known quantifiable aspects of the outbreak in the form of numbers of cases and/or deaths. Contextualizing maps and normalizing demographic data can enhance our understanding of local and regional impacts of the virus. An absolute count can be misleading because it is directly related to the total number of people in an area. Normalizing the data (i.e. dividing the number of cases by population) paints quite a different picture.  

Most medical related statistics on disease report in total cases per 100,000 people or provide graphs using logarithmic scales to visualize growth of the COVID-19 virus around the world. This allows for a comparable assessment across different locations and placesFor example, Italy has experienced slightly over half the number of deaths due to the virus compared to the US, but Italy has a considerably smaller population than the US, the proportion of the infected individuals dying from the disease is approximately three times as high. Further exploring other aspects of the data reveals that Italy has the oldest population in Europe, with 23% of the population being 65 or older – an age bracket highly susceptible to the virus. Understanding the demographic make-up of different countries provide a more nuanced understanding of viral spread and transmission.  

Data availability 

Many countries have created interactive maps with graphs and lists tracking the coronavirus by state or province (NigeriaMyanmarEcuador). However, there are fewer maps that provide data and information at the sub-state level. The United States and European countries have extensive datasets at subcountry levels to track infection rates, hospitalization, and virus testing (France – COVID 19)In the US, most states, counties and some cities have maps tracking COVID-19. For example, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has an interactive map that provides information on  number of positive tests and rates of infection.   

The proliferation of interactive maps related to the pandemic provides an important contribution towards better understanding the ongoing threat. Using a geographic lens to interpret the data, while trying to better understand the nature of places behind the statistics, help us find ways to see local and global relationships. This story demonstrates how the geography of COVID-19 is central to examining these intertwined dynamics to identify strategies and solutions. 


*The Geospatial Centroid Rapid Response Team is committed to: 

  • Helping to identify and examine emergent issues  
  • Illustrating the spatial nature of the most current challenges 
  • Elevating spatial thinking in science-based decision making  

Geospatial Centroid Rapid Response Team: 

Staff: Melinda Laituri, Sophia Linn, Dan Carver 

Interns: Arian Brazenwood, Luke Chamberlain, Sam Gudmestad, Caroline Norris 

Morgan Library closed, email us for questions and geospatial support

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While the Morgan Library building is closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Centroid is supporting you with online and virtual support.

Should you have questions, please contact us at

Instructor resources for teaching geospatial science remotely

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For instructors or TA’s looking for GIS, Remote Sensing, or Programming resources to use in their classes during this online instruction period, take a look at this thread on Twitter with some ideas:

You don’t need to have a Twitter account to read the thread.

Need additional help?  Contact us at and we’ll do our best.

AAG Conference Poster Competition – deadline March 10th

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The AAG (American Association of Geographers) conference is coming up  April 6-10 in Denver, and Esri is sponsoring a poster contest – if you have GIS work to show off, consider entering!

Submissions will be judged and awarded in the following 4 categories:

  • Best Use of Spatial Analysis Methods: How are techniques such as spatial statistics, overlay and proximity, multivariate mapping, space-time cubes, or others being used to analyze the patterns, relationships, and trends in the data, rather than simply displaying data on a map?
  • Best Use of Cartography to Tell a Compelling Story: How are classification methods, colors, 2D and 3D symbols, basemaps, multimedia, and other cartographic elements and techniques being used to clearly explain the problem or issue being examined?
  • Best Use of Components of Esri Technology (ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Pro, Insights, etc.): How and to what extent are Esri GIS tools and functions being rigorously applied to display, analyze, and communicate the results of the research or the extent of the problem being examined?
  • Best Application of GIS to Solve or understand a UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG): How effectively does the poster show why GIS is an appropriate toolset to apply to a SDG? How effectively does the presentation show how GIS was applied to this specific issue?

All the details are here:


Professors/Instructors: Please share with your students!

Deadline is extended to March 10th.

Upcoming events for February!

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Wed. Feb 19th

12pm – 1pm


GNSS Accuracy Study by Frontier Precision and PlanIt Geo

Morgan Library, Rm 210F

(adjacent to the Geospatial Centroid area)

Wed. Feb. 19th

2pm – 3pm

Spatial Stories

Share your “best” spatial mistakes!

Share your lessons learned, and learn from other’s mistakes.

No presenters, just an informal discussion.

Morgan Library, Rm. 203
Thurs. Feb. 20th

10am – 11am


Gather at 10am to watch Esri’s Live Training Seminar on Python Libraries for Spatial Data Science

Watch with the group at 10am,

Morgan Library Rm. 203

(Click here to watch on your own at 10am, 12pm, or 4pm)

Tues. Feb. 25th

1pm – 3pm


Go Geospatial! – A workshop series

Part 1: Get to know spatial data

More info and registration from the Workshops page

Morgan Library, Rm. 171

(Limited space, max. 12 attendees)

Wed. Feb. 26th

12pm – 1pm

Spatial Stories

Learn about Population Explorer: A resource for data that predicts socioeconomic and demographic change

Presented by Kyle Weaver

Morgan Library, Rm. 203

Exciting things happening for the Centroid

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Exciting things are happening at the Geospatial Centroid this semester

 We’re getting a new space!

We’re moving to the other side of the 2nd floor of Morgan Library. Our new area is still under construction, but looking great!

We’re getting a new website!

We’re working with NerdyMinds web developers on a snazzy new website – which is still under construction.

We’re hiring a Technical Manager!

The process is still underway, but we hope to soon have a new tech expert to help us better serve your geospatial needs.


Of course, we will still have several educational events including workshops and Spatial Stories.

Digital Agriculture – Spatial Stories Seminar on Tuesday, Dec. 3rd

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Join us Tuesday, Dec 3rd from 12 – 1pm for a Spatial Stories Seminar with Dr. Raj Khosla