France’s new COVID-19 map in shades of red could be the most effective

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A map is only useful if you know what it means. Otherwise, it’s just a really pretty picture.

It probably seems obvious. But after looking at a number of COVID-19 cards that have varying degrees of alerts in a rainbow of colors, it’s easy to get confused.However, a new map from the French government might just be the best example we’ve seen of effectively putting its citizens on alert. This is because it only uses two colors: gray and red.

La carte, publié jeudi, met différentes régions du pays à différents niveaux d’alerte afin que les gens puissent prendre les précautions appropriées en fonction du niveau de risque dans leur environnement immédiat. Cela a du sens, non? La partie surprenante est que chaque niveau d’alerte est représenté dans une nuance graduée de rouge: rouge clair pour le plus bas, rouge moyen pour amélioré et un rouge écarlate profond pour le risque le plus élevé. Les zones grises indiquent une «urgence sanitaire» – vous savez, juste la réalité quotidienne normale que nous vivons tous maintenant.

The effect is kind of an infographic on-off button – if you live in a place that has a shade of red, it’s an immediate visual signal of danger. This is a good thing. Compare this to warning systems that use a range of colors, but their meaning is not at all clear. What do blue and green mean anyway? This is not exactly the message you want to get across when you try to sound the alarm.

A sequential color scheme, on the other hand, makes it clear which areas need to be on alert, according to Amanda Makulec, director of operations for the Data Visualization Society. It may also “help address accessibility issues with the traffic light colors (red, yellow, and green) used on many other COVID-19 maps and visualizations,” she says. (For people with red-green color blindness, these cards are rendered unnecessary.)

Makulec notes that the French map based its alert system on infections per capita, not the total number of cases, “which would consistently be the highest for those with large populations. Significantly, it also takes into account the share of infected elderly patients, a population that is at particularly high risk for COVID-19.

While some discourage the use of red in a health crisis, calling it “sensationalist,” with deaths exceeding 200,000 in the United States alone, it’s hard to say that we are not already in the red zone. A card that uses color to show us that it’s a stark reminder that we need to keep hiding ourselves to reduce the spread, before we all see scarlet.



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