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2021 Topical Reporting, Pandemic Coverage, Portfolio finalist

Explaining the Coronavirus

About the Project

In the depths of the pandemic, The New York Times took readers by the hand, providing vivid explanatory journalism aimed at holding the government accountable and timely service journalism tailor made to readers’ local conditions.

Last June, we published How the Virus Won, which used clear and compelling visualizations to illuminate the country’s failure to stop the virus during pivotal moments in the pandemic. We spent months analyzing genetic data, case reports, public statements, disease modeling and the movements of millions of Americans to capture how the virus spread. We partnered with several prominent epidemiologists and geneticists, who provided original, unpublished research that powered the visualizations. Readers responded in droves.

In another hugely successful project, we gained exclusive access last summer to a Houston intensive care unit at a time when hospitalizations due to Covid were reaching a second peak in the U.S. Patients and their families gave us permission to document their care. Devastating photographs and video helped reveal the multiple, cascading tragedies unfolding in an overwhelmed healthcare system. The patients were disproportionately Hispanic, a reflection of the unequal impact of the disease nationwide.

Building on the newsroom’s exhaustive effort to track every case and death in the United States, we launched a personalized dashboard in November that allowed readers to monitor virus data in their states, metro areas or counties in their own daily tracker.

As the first vaccines were administered in mid-December, we launched a tracker to show how states were doing in getting shots into arms. The page, later expanded to include county-level data, included a number of unique features that other similar trackers lacked. One example was our effort to track eligibility. We reported on who was eligible for vaccines from December to April when states were using complicated phase-based eligibility plans. We surveyed each state and dozens of counties every weekday to follow the rapidly shifting policies. The data were presented in maps and tables allowing readers to see who was ahead or behind in offering vaccines. The Times also worked to fill in county-level vaccination data for states like Texas and Colorado where federal data was missing or incomplete, providing one of the most comprehensive looks anywhere.

As the country’s cases reached their third, and highest, peak in January, The Times published more than 3,000 new tracking pages, one for every county, to help readers understand the risk in their daily lives, using data from their own local areas. Guidance was provided for activities like dining, shopping and seeing family and friends. The pages gave readers an updating resource to track cases, deaths, testing and hospitalizations. Times reporters worked with public health experts at Resolve to Save Lives and Johns Hopkins University to develop the risk assessments for each county, based on recent cases and test positivity. These pages were integrated with The Times’s existing dashboards, giving readers a comprehensive resource to track the virus at the global, national, state and county levels.