Recently, the news media have been saturated with all sorts of information on the outbreak of COVID-19. However, this pandemic is no longer news; it is our daily reality and the endless reporting does more to hurt us than help us.
I am a cashier in my parents’ restaurant and we have three televisions tuned to different news channels all day, every day. The purpose of news is to inform the public of relevant knowledge that might not be otherwise apparent. I can tell you firsthand that the coverage surrounding the novel coronavirus has not met these goals. Instead, we get an endless stream of commentary on the government response, regurgitated explanations on how the virus infects and spreads and the same repetitive advice to stay indoors and wash our hands. All the while, I watch as the confirmed cases counter ticks upwards.
While information regarding this pandemic is without a doubt essential, its exclusive coverage has effectively enacted a media blackout on other important international news. However, the world has not stopped while we fight a pandemic. As we approach the 2020 elections, these stories will shape our foreign policies but I do not see their coverage. A mere two weeks ago, news outlets were covering Putin’s push to extend his term limits. Now that news is nowhere to be seen. As the spread of COVID slows in China, life and politics there will slowly return to normal. I expect this news to be absent as well, save for the fact that production of masks and test kits will increase. We Americans, already renown for our ignorance of worldly events, are digging our hole deeper.
In addition to blinding us to international current events, too much coronavirus reporting takes an emotional toll on Americans. Continuously sensationalizing the pandemic has only two outcomes in the longer term: Either people will continue to feel endangered or they will not.
If pushing the panic button continues to work, anxiety will keep building. I do not need to tell you that our nation’s limited mental health resources are inequitably distributed and that the poor are feeling the effects of the pandemic the worst. Ignorance and rising fear lead to, and already have led to, racist attacks against Asian Americans. We can only expect that to not only continue but also become formalized in policy.
However, if pushing the panic button stops working, if the virus somehow becomes a normalized risk to daily life, people will start to ignore measures intended to control its spread. This, of course, will increase the virus’s spread and kill many. We have already seen statements this week of Trump pushing to loosen restrictions before Easter and others willing to die to save the economy.
At the risk of fear mongering, I predict that our future contains a mix of both and thus the worst of both. Our problematic interaction with news media is larger than a single fix. The global situation evolves daily without an end in sight. I am not above the despair I see around me.
But I also remind myself that all is not lost. Follow guidelines directed by health officials. Practice critical consumption of media. Check in with members of your community, especially the most vulnerable. Pay attention to how leaders, local and national, are responding to our crisis. Above all, take care of yourself in these troubling times.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.
Matthew Wan is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.