As a member of the media I have witnessed sensationalism in the news and a seemingly never ending cascade of Coronavirus COVID-19 stories from virtually every angle media outlets can piece together.
Fear is a healthy response to danger as it helps the body get ready to fight by increasing adrenaline levels and heightens awareness so we can take in information about our situation and process it quickly.
As a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, I adhere to its ethical rules and I’m seeing many of these rules being broken by all types of media, further fueling the flame of panic and fear.
Speaking with members of the community here in Lincoln City I’m shocked by the level of fear that exists due to the sheer number of coronavirus related stories and the way this event has unfolded and been reported. Everything from buying toilet paper to price gouging articles have a severe impact on the way people live, shop and interpret information.
Speaking with countless people in Lincoln City and Newport has been eye opening for myself as I did not fully grasp the level of fear they were experiencing because of misinformation and unreliable data.
I get it. There’s not enough information and there’s a bunch of confusion about what to do and how to protect families from this new coronavirus.
Some have a handle on their fear and are continuing life as normal. Others, not so much, as evidenced by the depletion of many household items online and in stores. A NY Times article of a Tennessee man who bought up 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer illustrates why online retailers the likes of Amazon and Ebay have curbed price gougers from capitalizing on a pandemic.
“I think we have a bad virus that targets a narrow band of the population,” a police chief said while shopping at Safeway. “I don’t think it warrants the run on toilet paper, rice and pasta.”
Former Lincoln City Mayor Don Williams, who has been speaking out against overreaction for close to a week says, “It’s time for this lunacy to stop.” Williams expressed concern over the loss of constitutional rights, such as the right to assemble peaceably that has been suspended recently by an order from Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown.
From the Constitution of the United States of America:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Our reporting has been based on facts from the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and prevention, as well as local sources like the Oregon Health Authority, however, it needs to be said that a complete picture of this disease has not been put together and the numbers may not be what they seem.
Time published an article that called into question the 3.4 percent mortality rate for COVID-19, saying the data from countries with robust testing systems supports the idea of a mortality rate lower than 3.4 percent. The United States has tested vastly lower numbers of people and have focused on the most severe cases. This suggests that testing more people for all severities of the illness would cause the mortality rate to go down. With some, such as the President and local doctors saying it could be less that 1 percent.
So it may not be as bad as you think. Probably not so bad that you need to buy enough toilet paper for two months. All the President’s men say the chance for contracting COVID-19 is very low unless you’ve come in contact with an infected person.
But how would we know?
Is it imperative we get enough tests to find out who has it?
I’ve been to Safeway, IGA, Walmart, Bi-Mart and Fred Meyer grocery stores and observed first hand the panic in people based on what’s in their carts alone.
Seeing a lady buying five 20 pound bags of cat food didn’t seem reasonable. The lady who saw the woman buying such a large quantity of cat food and loading up the same amount herself seemed even less reasonable.
One man was buying buckets and when I asked him why, he said, “for bathroom purposes, ya know?”
A fight almost erupted at Lincoln City’s Dollar Tree as the TP ran out, with a father of three pleading for one package from a man who had just grabbed the last four. The issue was settled with the man buying one for $5 from the other guy.
Some people I spoke to had pertinent information.
One commercial fishing boat captain I approached in the wine aisle at Walmart said he was worried because he could not send his fish to a port in South Korea. He went on to say how that country did a good job of testing their population and has since reopened the port of Busan and said they “nipped it in the bud.” When I asked him if the U.S. was doing a good job he looked bewildered and shouted “Nooooo!”
“They didn’t get the test kits out in time. They are too slow.” He said COVID-19 was “not that bad for most” and that people were freaking out for no good reason over a really bad “flu.”
A surgeon I spoke with at McKay’s said we had about three more months of COVID-19 in our future. He said that by June “this will be in our rearview mirror.”
An investigative journalist said he was sick at home on self-quarantine. He said “We’re all going to get it and the best thing you can do is hunker down.”
Another journalist said:
“The mainstream and social media are mostly to blame for this sensationalism. There would never have been this insane overreaction 10 years ago.”
There is a real disease spreading throughout the world and vulnerable populations should limit their exposure by staying home as much as possible. Check reputable websites like the CDC and WHO, and please wash your hands, don’t touch your face and stay six feet away from people.
I’m curious to know what you think. Leave a comment below and let us know how you are reacting to the coronavirus pandemic.