When people check in on the latest virus news they're overwhelmed by numbers: gross figures, net increases, percentages, projections and correlations.
A visual illustration can provide a more intuitive grasp of the situation than a sea of data points.
But some folks recently learned that a visceral understanding can be more of a squirm sensation than a light bulb moment.
On April 20, the Washington Postpublished an article that explored decades of research into the disproportionate spread of illness aboard airplanes and the possible means toward curbing the issue.
The article featured a seven second illustration and it completely stole the show.
The animation shows a quick sequence. Droplets from a faceless sneeze or cough appear at one seat, they spew upward toward the cabin ceiling, spread outward and down again along the curved walls until reaching the floor and rising up among several seats in the cabin.
Then a few seats glow purple. The newly infected have been chosen.
Never have some dancing specks in a psychedelic 80s-style room been so horrifying.
When readers reposted the animation to Twitter, it spread like droplets in a plane.
Well, the Washington Post's story about how droplets spread on airplanes wins the award for "gif most likely to giv… https://t.co/z1A0BEg8SL— 💀 damned sinker 💀 (@💀 damned sinker 💀) 1588102788.0
@DanielHeithorn @dansinker @Heithorn56 @LubkeAnne https://t.co/qN67TW9qvl— Max B. (@Max B.) 1588108438.0
@dansinker I kinda want to wear masks on planes forever now.— J. Lang Wood (@J. Lang Wood) 1588113189.0
@lifewinning @dansinker https://t.co/EyI46AxPsu— Andy K. (@Andy K.) 1588116568.0
@dansinker So we can never fly again. Cool cool.— Abby Koch (@Abby Koch) 1588108567.0
Some pumped the breaks on droplet-induced panic.
They reminded people of how long we've been flying on planes up until this point.
@dansinker @KevinMKruse Just think of it as a fart.— David Elder (@David Elder) 1588103252.0
@dansinker Well you are flying in an aluminium deathtube at incredible speed in heights that frankly should be ille… https://t.co/hhjgoAAyTJ— #48 (@#48) 1588113432.0
@dansinker @dominik It also explains why I get sick three days after almost every single airline flight I take.— ᗰᗩᖇIᗩ ᒪᗩᑎGEᖇ 🌧🚁🌬🍒 (@ᗰᗩᖇIᗩ ᒪᗩᑎGEᖇ 🌧🚁🌬🍒) 1588104728.0
@dansinker Honestly graphics like this just make me aware of how amazing our immune system is. We walk around breat… https://t.co/LLNskBgAig— Esmertina Bicklesnit (@Esmertina Bicklesnit) 1588116792.0
Of course, now you know why you often catch colds or other illnesses whenever you fly...
Others took the opportunity to share some other illustrations they came across.
These showed microbes on the move in other common public spaces.
@dansinker @danahull Same for restaurants & offices & basically any indoor airspace with HVAC air flow. https://t.co/wg48Miueud— Junior Reply Engineer (@Junior Reply Engineer) 1588117134.0
@dansinker @danahull Infection study in 11th floor office. 43% of 216 people infected by one infected person. https://t.co/2OmyJ58wKB— Junior Reply Engineer (@Junior Reply Engineer) 1588117222.0
@dansinker @KevinMKruse This one though... https://t.co/7RUtrMmsga— Jen Blair (@Jen Blair) 1588105469.0
Although it's created quite the buzz across the internet, the animation was by no means necessary to keep people away from traveling by air. Several countries have closed their borders to prevent further spread of the virus, and most people across the globe are barely leaving their homes as is, let alone jumping on a plane.
The week of April 20 saw a 66% decrease in scheduled flights worldwide, compared to the same week in 2019, according to statista.com.
For now, empty seats in the graphic would be most accurate.
The book THE SPANISH 1918 INFLUENZA PANDEMIC: The Deadliest Epidemic in Human History, Its Causes, Symptoms, Out Break And How It Was Curtailed is available here.