I woke up this morning with the word Cartography in my mind and a topographic map showing elevations in the landscape. Topography refers to the detailed written representation of a place or area and comes from the Greek words namely “topos” and “graphein”. These words mean “place” and “to write” respectively [1].

I thought to myself, so what does place and elevation have to do with Coronavirus? I Googled and the first article I found linking Cartography and Corona was written by Cartographer Dr Kenneth Field about how easy it is for maps to misguide, misinform and have the potential to go viral as an example of a #cartofail [2].

Basically, Dr Field says that most thematic maps of the Coronavirus are deceptive and inaccurate, such as the following map of Coronavirus in China dated 24th Feb 2020, which Dr Field says is using faulty data.

Dr Field goes on to say that to the type of data being displayed regarding Coronavirus a much more accurate way to represent true proportions would be to use a table or graph instead of a map, which clearly shows the empirical and geographical dimensions without hiding them behind a map that needs careful interpretation. For example, the same statistics as shown in the red map above would look like the following:

Mapping is also recognised in anthropology as a way of creating and imagining space and therefore is a powerful tool for the production of space and for the creation of stories. Therefore it is important to recognise what story a map is trying to tell. In the above two examples it would appear that in the ‘red map’ the spread of Coronavirus spread is similarly high across Chinese provinces yet when we look at the graph the data distribution is very different and much less sensationalist.

Unfortunately with so much misinformation occurring across social media, it is very difficult to learn the truth of the current situation.

The second link that I found was between elevation and Coronavirus and surprisingly I found a medical article with a groundbreaking new hypothesis that Coronavirus could cause altitude sickness, not pneumonia but the writers were concerned about the impact of social media on their new observations. [3]

As stated by Political Scientist Charlie Carpenter, “if it turns out to be true that drugs already available for high-altitude-sickness could address COVID19 symptoms, it could drastically change the way hospitals are managing the pandemic, reserving ventilators for only the most high-risk patients”.

Based on this article and several others I read, I definitely think that this is a story worth following up on and keeping an open mind about but remember the map v graph exercise, follow the facts as best you can without getting caught up in the politics and conspiracy theories.

[1] https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-is-topography.html

[2] https://www.esri.com/arcgis-blog/products/product/mapping/mapping-coronavirus-responsibly/

[3] https://medium.com/@charli.carpenter/covid19-may-be-altitude-sickness-not-pneumonia-may-be-54fbf159b12a