The Pandemic Put Geography Back in the Spotlight

The pandemic has changed how physical space impacts our daily lives. That applies to the dwellings that we've all been spending so much time in, but it also applies to physical space on a regional, national, continental, and hemispheric level.

The pandemic has brought with it a renewed focus on geography. In some ways, modernization in transportation and communication had made geography less important in our lives, shrinking distances and erasing location-based constraints that used to inhibit human interaction. The global COVID-19 outbreak changed all that.

Four Pandemic "Where?" Questions

In this article, we'll look at some of the ways that geographic factors have loomed large during the pandemic, focusing on four "where?" questions that have dominated our minds.

Where did it start?

Wuhan. It's the capital of Hubei Province in the People's Republic of China and the most populous city in Central China, with over 11 million people.

The first known infections were discovered among workers at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, suggesting that the virus originated from the market, but other research indicates that the virus was brought into the market by outside visitors.

Where is it having the biggest impact?

At any time during the pandemic, we have been presented with sometimes scary maps that show hot spots, with accompanying data about alarming infection rates and deaths caused by the virus. We learned about the pandemic spreading through our home countries, ever mindful of our proximity to the growing danger.

How bad is it where I live?

Viewing the situation at a micro geographical level, many of us have drilled down to local municipality data to get a reliable picture of the regional pandemic status where we live.

How a given locale has dealt with this devastating public health crisis has largely been determined by the nature of the governmental response, which has varied across continents and within nations' borders. Large cities in Asia and Africa have faced shocking casualties as have some Latin American states. In Europe and North America, where many places have active public health and social support systems, most populations have still faced severe challenges.

Where is it starting to subside?

As it has been during the worst of the pandemic, geography is front and center now that the end is in sight. All over the world, health systems are in place to vaccinate entire populations, and the number of vaccinated people rises every day.

We'll Learn from a Geographic Retrospective

Anyone who didn't know about Wuhan, China before the pandemic has at least heard the name at some point over the past year. Most people watched as the coronavirus spread into their country, state, and town. Now, we wait to learn of locations around the globe that have achieved herd immunity through vaccination. At every level, geography has played a crucial role in our navigation of the pandemic.

Getting a handle on the virus has brought experts in many fields into a close relationship with geography, requiring that they examine specific geographic circumstances as they relate to the pandemic. Infectious disease scientists around the globe have benefited from their already strong understanding of geographical factors in research.

In the aftermath, what will we see when viewing the pandemic through a lens of population density, geopolitics, economic factors, or cultural differences? We'll learn about how different areas around the globe weathered the storm, and geographical details will reveal valuable insight into how such a global tragedy can be dealt with if it were to happen again.