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The site for Huoshensan Hospital in Wuhan China in 2017 (left). The hospital built in 2020 (right). Photos: ©2020 Maxar Technologies

Miles above Earth, the global effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic can be seen unfolding at a rapid and dramatic scale.

Why it matters: Tracking the effects of the virus from space can help organizations understand the pandemic without sending people into harm's way, and it can promote transparency and accountability around efforts to combat the virus.

What's happening: Planet — a company that operates more than 100 Earth-imaging satellites — has been snapping before and after photos of airports, bridges and other locations to show how social distancing efforts have cleared roads and tourist destinations around the world.

  • Another satellite operator, Maxar, has been tracking the construction of new hospitals and medical facilities as cities try to treat an influx of patients.
  • Companies are also reporting an uptick in demand for satellite imagery showing manufacturing and infrastructure in particularly hard-hit parts of the world like China, according to a report from Space News.
Miami Beach in 2019 (left). An empty Miami Beach in 2020. Photos: Planet Labs Inc.

The big picture: Satellite images also provide a sense of scope that can't be seen from the ground.

  • A striking timelapse shows pollution clearing over China as the country enacted strict measures to slow the progression of the coronavirus crisis. (Similar photos also show pollution clearing above Italy.)
  • Satellite images also show large pits being dug in Iran to bury the victims of the coronavirus outbreak in that country.

Background: Satellite data has long been used to aid in disaster relief.

  • Images taken from space can also be used to track deforestation and wildfires.
A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

Between the lines: Satellite images not only show the scope of the coronavirus crisis, but also help to hold nations and companies accountable for their actions as people on the ground work to combat the pandemic.

  • "Space enables a higher degree of transparency," Dylan Taylor, the CEO of Voyager Space Holdings told Axios. "It's hard to hide from space-based assets."

What's next: It's possible remote sensing data will also be used to aid in economic recovery.

  • The bird's eye view a satellite provides could help companies track the effects of the outbreak without putting employees at risk on the ground.
  • Satellite data might also be able to help warn about future epidemics by keeping an eye on areas that have the potential for outbreaks to know when the risk is high for certain diseases to start spreading.

Go deeper

House passes sweeping election and anti-corruption bill

Photo: Win McNamee via Getty Images

The House voted 220-210Wednesday to pass Democrats' expansive election and anti-corruption bill.

Why it matters: Expanding voting access has been a top priority for Democrats for years, but the House passage of the For the People Act (H.R. 1) comes as states across the country consider legislation to rollback voting access in the aftermath of former President Trump's loss.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

House passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

Photo: Stephen Maturen via Getty Images

The House voted 220 to 212 on Wednesday evening to pass a policing bill named for George Floyd, the Black man whose death in Minneapolis last year led to nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Why it matters: The legislation overhauls qualified immunity for police officers, bans chokeholds at the federal level, prohibits no-knock warrants in federal drug cases and outlaws racial profiling.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Senate Republicans plan to exact pain before COVID relief vote

Sen. Ron Johnson. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Republicans are demanding a full, 600-page bill reading — and painful, multi-hour "vote-a-rama" — as Democrats forge ahead with their plan to pass President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Why it matters: The procedural war is aimed at forcing Democrats to defend several parts the GOP considers unnecessary and partisan. While the process won't substantially impact the final version of the mammoth bill, it'll provide plenty of ammunition for future campaign messaging.