Top stories from our data visuals team in 2021

(Illustrations By Leland Foster And Emily Albracht, Illustrations By Leland Foster And Emily Albracht)

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From charting the status of the pandemic to maps that show the racial impact of redistricting, the Tribune's data visuals team has told the stories of 2021 in formats that give clear context and are easy to read. Here’s the year in review, as told by our data journalists.

Like last year, Texas grappled with the continued spread of the coronavirus. Launched in 2020, our COVID-19 tracker was updated nearly every day in 2021 with the latest numbers on cases, tests, hospitalizations and more. We added data on vaccination rates and explored vaccine access by location, age and race. The tracker helped us explore why more Texans under 60 died during the delta variant surge this summer. We also started tracking cases in schools and how full ICU beds were in Texas.

In March, we marked an unfortunate anniversary: one year since the first person in Texas died due to COVID-19. As the numbers grew, we realized it's hard to comprehend the scale of the tragedy. Our first story honored the tens of thousands of Texans we have lost because of the virus. This project was an effort to bring humanity back into those statistics. We followed this up by taking a closer look at the devastating toll the virus has taken on nursing homes.

Another major story this year was February’s winter storm, which knocked out power for millions of Texans. We tracked the outages and were able to show which parts of the state saw the largest numbers of customers lose electricity. We also created a diagram to show how the power grid works in Texas. Months later, we continued to follow the story. Data reporter Ren Larson explored how the storm produced the worst carbon monoxide poisoning catastrophe in recent U.S. history and later looked at how generators can be particularly deadly. Meanwhile, senior data visuals developer Carla Astudillo drilled down on how much money the energy industry donates to Gov. Greg Abbott and other Texas politicians.

In politics, lawmakers redrew Texas’ political districts based on new population numbers from the U.S. Census. In the leadup, our data visuals fellow Jason Kao created charts showing how Republicans could manipulate the boundaries to their advantage. When the new legislative maps were released, we analyzed how the process reduced Black and Hispanic majority districts in both congressional and legislative maps. And afterward, data visuals developer Mandi Cai produced several extremely detailed maps showing the long-term effects this process will have on people of color across the state. We also published a tool readers can use to see how their districts have changed.

Our team was involved in several other crucial stories throughout the year. Over the summer, Kao helped write a story featuring Texas teachers’ reactions to the passage of a new social studies law. We also followed the state’s plan to build a border wall and examined the private donations that have come in to fund it.