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Travelers stand on markers at a train platform in Nice, France.

REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Six months of pandemic photography

Back in early March, we had already spent 2 months covering the COVID-19 outbreak. The team gathered for the morning news meeting, many joining by video conference. “I’m surprised you’re all still in the office. I bet by the end of the week they’ll send everyone home,” Science’s infectious disease reporter declared ominously from the large video screen on the wall.

Science’s offices closed 3 days later. With the pandemic hitting the Washington, D.C., area our staff began working from home.

It’s been 6 months since the virus emerged. Over that time, as senior photo editor, I’ve pored through thousands of pictures documenting the effects of this historical crisis.

A woman touches the head of a man on a gurneyJOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES

A daughter in Stamford, Connecticut, touches her father, who had symptoms of COVID-19. Some black communities have been hit hard by the coronavirus.

Most Science magazine stories fall in a narrow portion of the news media spectrum. Photo assignments require scientific accuracy when illustrating stories about specific species or molecules. This can limit availability of appropriate photography. However, the vast number of pictures made about the coronavirus can make the subject feel never-ending.

News photographs repeat the same scenarios over and over again: Travelers’ foreheads measured for fever at checkpoints, social distancing practices forcing people 6 feet apart, families kept in isolation behind glass windows, frantic emergency rooms and medical facilities, medical staff garbed in protective equipment caring for their patients, massive temporary hospitals set up with rows and rows of beds ready for the sick. Every few days I saw these same pictures repeated in a new country. Yet to keep people’s attention, the pictures needed to feel fresh.

medical worker sits on steps outsideTAYFUN COSKUN/ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES

Health care workers are experiencing a crushing psychological burden in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ultimately the photographs with the most impact are those telling human stories. Images that create an immediate emotional connection can leave readers speechless and empathetic. They reveal telling moments—when a daughter taps her father on the head, saying goodbye as he is wheeled into an ambulance. Or seeing a medical worker collapsed on the stairs during a mentally and emotionally draining shift.

In science journalism these human connections can sometimes be lost in the quest for the most technically or scientifically appropriate image. Yet pictures of other people can engage us emotionally. Their impact can be immediate, and also linger in our memory. When we look back on this time in history, what we may remember most will be those images of people—and how sharing their emotions made us feel.

Here are the most memorable photographs from Science’s coverage of the pandemic so far:

An ambulance drives across an empty bridgeChinatopix via AP

25 JANUARY  An ambulance crosses a deserted bridge in Wuhan, China, which has been cordoned off from the outside world.

a worker pushes spraying equipment in a marketChung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

26 FEBRUARY  As the number of confirmed cases rises, workers spray disinfectant solution at a traditional market in Seoul.

a patient's sitting in their car opens their mouth to be swabbed by a healthworkerCHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

16 MARCH  A woman gets swabbed at a drive-through testing site in West Palm Beach, Florida.

A woman hangs masks to dry.WILLY KURNIAWAN/REUTERS

9 APRIL  A woman hangs face masks out to dry before distributing them for free in a neighborhood in Tangerang, on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia.


13 APRIL  Experts have forecasted rising numbers of U.S. COVID-19 cases as hospitals such as Mount Sinai South Nassau scramble to respond.

Flower petals fall down on healthcare workers.AP Photo/Rajanish Kakad

3 MAY  Physicians, nurses, and police officers in Mumbai, India are showered with flower petals by helicopter to thank them for handling the country’s COVID-19 cases.

A woman adjusts a tablet showing a face set on top of a graduation gown.ROUELLE UMALI Xinhua/eyevine/Redux

22 MAY  A teacher prepares a tablet showing a student’s image for a “cybergraduation” ceremony at a high school in Manila, Philippines, as social distancing continued.

A couple dressed in American Flag prints walk down a busy boardwalkRoger Kisby/Redux

26 MAY  Crowds flocked to Venice Beach and other popular U.S. tourist destinations on Memorial Day.

A small group of protestors not wearing masks chant out loud.SCOTT HEINS/GETTY IMAGES

1 JUNE  As protesters demonstrated in New York City’s Times Square and other U.S. cities against the killing of an unarmed black man by Minneapolis police, public health specialists worried that the large crowds, in which many people did not wear masks, would quicken the spread of COVID-19.

A gravedigger stands among rows of freshly buried gravesMICHAEL DANTAS/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

2 JUNE  The Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Brazil, where many COVID-19 victims are buried. The city’s clinical trial with chloroquine started in late March, when cases had begun to explode.

People working out behind plastic curtains in a gym.FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

15 JUNE  People exercise behind plastic sheets at a gym in Redondo Beach, California, that reopened under state guidelines that call for continuing social distancing. Public health experts worry the reopenings are increasing COVID-19 infections in many U.S. states.

Emily Petersen is the Senior Photo Editor at Science.