There Are No Right Answers
My job as a journalist is to communicate accurate information. The problem is, the information on the coronavirus keeps changing.
Covering the novel coronavirus pandemic has been the greatest challenge in my career as a health reporter. Part of it is the long hours, the universal feeling of anxiety, and the pressure to churn out story after story. But the far greater concern is getting the information right and not contributing to the confusion and misinformation around the virus. It is my job to communicate accurate information to people that can help keep them safe, and that need is more pressing now than ever. The problem is, the right answers keep changing.
As a former scientist, I trust expertise, data, and the scientific method. I trained as an experimental psychologist studying the brain, not as a virologist, emergency medicine physician, or an epidemiologist, so I defer to those who are able to answer questions about the virus: How it affects the human body, how we might treat it, and how it will spread. But the problem is, this virus is so new most of the experts don’t know those things either.
“I don’t know.”
“We’re not sure yet.”
“We’ll have to wait and see.”
I get these responses over and over again during interviews, or experts make educated guesses based on what they know about other viruses and the human body. They’re doing their best based on the information available, but those guesses don’t always hold up.
Because it turns out this virus is a real head-scratcher. It only presents as a cough and a fever, definitely not as a runny nose and sore throat. Well, maybe it can start out with cold-like symptoms, but it always progresses. Oh, it turns out that it doesn’t always progress, and actually you can have the virus without any symptoms at all. And guess what, it affects the stomach, the eyes, and the brain, too!
With so much unknown, the safest bet is to adhere, at least initially, to what we’ve learned from past pandemics and from sister viruses of SARS-CoV-2. It’s also a time to defer to the recommendations from the WHO and the CDC — storied institutions run by experts whose entire careers have been…