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2021 Explanatory Reporting, Medium Newsroom finalist

N.J. Was Primed for a Pandemic (and It Could Happen Again)

About the Project

As one of the hardest hit states in the country, New Jersey had a front-row seat to one of the biggest tragedies of the past century, COVID-19, and a question everyone wanted answered: Could the spread of the pandemic in those early months been controlled?

We examined just that in “N.J. was primed for a pandemic (and it could happen again).”

First, we went to the data. NJ Advance Media developer Arjun Kakkar began studying the first cases of the novel coronavirus. As the days passed and the cases multiplied, the data showed what we suspected: Commuters traveling to and from New York seemed to be bringing along an extra passenger.

Reporter Ted Sherman went further, examining the economic and cultural ties inside and outside New Jersey that seemed to leave a state such as ours virtually defenseless against a virus of this breed.

Designer Cassidy Grom brought all of these learnings to life, creating a piece of longform work that is at once approachable and foreboding.

Together, the piece gives residents a very clear understanding of how New Jersey — a hub of business and economy built on a system of public transportation, a tightly packed state full of closely connected communities — fell victim so early and so hard. We took them by the hand and showed them the data, spoke to the experts and laid out the geography to help them see that our state’s greatest strengths are its greatest weaknesses.

How can we stop this from happening again? Without changes to the very fabric of New Jersey’s identity, we likely never will.