By Elizabeth Prata
Yesterday CNN, (Cable News Network) decided to unilaterally call the covid-19 flu outbreak a pandemic. I wasn’t aware that CNN reporters had global medical expertise enough to decide for the world whether the coronavirus had reached a criterion-laden level of that sort. CNN has had hidden talents all this time.
My sarcasm stems from a deep anguish and a disappointment in the journalism we have come to know and either love or hate, depending on which side of the aisle you’re on. If you’re reading an evangelical blog named “The End Time”, I suspect you’re on the side where you also feel some disappointment, anguish or at least skepticism over the state of affairs in world reporting by these mainstream outlets.
I was a journalist, editing and reporting on a weekly community newspaper for almost 6 years. We printed the truth without fear or favor, even-handedly, and sticking to the principle that an informed citizenry is critical for a democracy to thrive. We also trusted the populace to make good decisions for themselves if given the facts, unadorned and truthfully. And you know what? They did.
I don’t believe it is in our purview to make decisions FOR the populace (aside from deciding which stories to cover and publish each week). We are not to influence the news, make up the news, or protect the news. The news is the citizens,’ for the purposes of deciding how they want to live their lives. That’s it.
That said, CNN mentioned in their ‘why we did what we did’ article (linked above) that the definition of a pandemic has been hard to come by. They do have a point. In this Bulletin published in 2011 at World Health Organization (WHO) by Peter Doshi, the title alone is enough to grab one’s attention
In the article, Doshi makes mention that WHO changed the definition of a pandemic after 2003, and intimated it was due to pressure from CNN (CNN again) during the health issues arising from the then-scary virus of the day: H1N1 (AKA Swine Flu).
Since 2003, the top of the WHO Pandemic Preparedness homepage has contained the following statement: “An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus appears against which the human population has no immunity, resulting in several simultaneous epidemics worldwide with enormous numbers of deaths and illness.”6 However, on 4 May 2009, scarcely one month before the H1N1 pandemic was declared, the web page was altered in response to a query from a CNN reporter.7 The phrase “enormous numbers of deaths and illness” had been removed and the revised web page simply read as follows: “An influenza pandemic may occur when a new influenza virus appears against which the human population has no immunity.” Months later, the Council of Europe would cite this alteration as evidence that WHO changed its definition of pandemic influenza to enable it to declare a pandemic without having to demonstrate the intensity of the disease caused by the H1N1 virus.3
The article is live and the footnotes are explained at the site.
This tells us several things.
1. Criteria to classify whether an outbreak is an outbreak, a pandemic, or an epidemic is a nuanced decision containing many factors, is a moving target, and is to be decided by experts.
2. Experts can make mistakes. It seems that the Swine Flu was not a global pandemic. It faded quickly. A case can perhaps be made that WHO caved to media pressure in this regard.
3. Influential News outlets can alter the news, shape the news, or even create the news. It perhaps can be said that CNN influenced WHO to change their definition by using their influence to apply pressure.
4. It perhaps can be said that CNN is again applying pressure by prematurely and invasively deciding to do WHO’s job in calling COVID-19 a pandemic.
Let’s look at some facts, as best as I can determine them in this fog of flu war.
Numbers show coronavirus is not nearly as scary as media want you to think
Despite the hair-on-fire reporting of coronavirus news, let’s look at some actual numbers, rather than the codswallop from CNN or MSNBC.
At the time of this writing, there are 107,352 cases worldwide, 3,646 deaths, and 60,558 recoveries. Fifteen of those deaths occurred in the U.S. The odds of recovering are far higher than the odds of dying.
Cases in mainland China have peaked, with few added cases over the past week. Cases elsewhere are on the rise, following the same pattern as China in early February. Recoveries are rising at an even faster rate. Granted that China may be better equipped to institute mandatory quarantines and travel restrictions under their command and control government, the pattern is similar to the disease course for other viral epidemics.
Anthony Fauci, M.D., of the National Institutes of Health and a member of the Trump administration’s task force, gave some perspective in a New England Journal of Medicine editorial:
The median age of the patients was 59 years, with higher morbidity and mortality among the elderly and among those with coexisting conditions (similar to the situation with influenza). The overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza.
But, hey, it IS an election year.
This week the NY Governor declared a state of emergency due to coronoavirus due to “cases in the state ‘jumps’ to 76”.
So, 76 cases out of an 8.6 million population of NY state equals 0.0008837209302325581 cases…that’s an emergency?
Let’s take another look at some history. There have been consistent and regularly occurring outbreaks of some sort of animal-to-human flu, such as SARS, AVIAN, SWINE, MERS, EBOLA, ZIKA, EBOLA, CORONA.
Now, the memes being passed around especially in Facebook are fraught with inaccuracies. The one that says “Every election year has a disease” and then tries to put a nail in the coffin by attaching election years to the names of these last outbreaks, is nonsense. The meme itself is misleading and doesn’t “specify if this is referring to the year with the greatest number of cases, when the outbreak started or when it was declared a health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO).” (source).
However that news outlets would try to USE an outbreak by asserting their influence to discredit a Republican president or candidate during an election year vis-a-vis their response to a media- inflamed outbreak is reasonable to assume. And it’s also reasonable to assume that certain liberal mainstream news outlets (you know who) are doing it again.
Think on this, that news outlets would be so interested in influencing the outcome of a US election that they would carelessly or selfishly promote hysteria and outrage and even go so far as to unilaterally call an outbreak a pandemic, sparking global panic, is unconscionable.
Indeed, after yesterday’s declaration of the Covid-19 outbreak as a pandemic, the global economic markets crashed. I am just cynical enough about current journalism to think that is exactly what is going on here.
I found this article from Forbes published yesterday but the page was almost immediately classed as “no longer active”, COVID-19 Is Officially Now A Panic-Demic, Not A Pandemic. I managed to copy it. He writes from a corporate perspective.
Aaron Kwittken- Contributor
A purpose-driven entrepreneur and podcaster, I’m an expert in reputation management who writes about how companies and leaders communicate in good times and bad.
I am going to say what most of us are thinking — the greatest threat from COVID-19 is not COVID-19. It’s us and it’s the media who continue to over-report the story (cases and deaths) and our country’s leadership who have failed to communicate with us in a calm, fact-based manner and articulate a plan that instills confidence, not panic.
I am not a healthcare professional and I am not trying to downplay the significance of this public health event. But let’s call it what it is. It’s an event, not a public health crisis. I feel for the families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 in the same way I feel for the 30,000-60,000 souls who will die this year from the common flu and the million people who lost theirs lives to drug overdoses over the past decade. Yet, we don’t see the media issuing special “newsletters,” daily updates and deathwatches on these chronic public health events. Why not?
I never thought I would beg for the return of a Trump 24-7 newscycle but I am nearly there. Some people think that COVID-19 could be Trump’s Katrina and negatively impact his ability to get re-elected this year. Trump was hoping to run on a strong economy. It now looks like he needs to come up with a different platform. The calculus is simple. More media coverage leads to more panic which has already created a downward spiral in the markets. Airlines cut flights, the price of oil is dropping, interest rates are plummeting to historic lows and major events like SXSW and Mobile World Congress are being cancelled. Schools and places of worship are shuttering when patient zero surfaces and the shelves are bare at grocery stores. The list the goes on and so does the panic.
As of this post, the World Health Organization cited the following stats:
· 109,672 infections detected
· 3,775 confirmed deaths
· 58,895 recovered!
I know the number of people infected will rise because more people will get tested. It’s also true that the number of infections and recoveries will go up faster than confirmed deaths. While the mortality rate is 3.4% now, it will probably go down as more testing is done.
As this recent article in Business Insider suggests, the panic itself is worse than the disease. And if you want to hear from a legit infectious disease expert in the field, read the entire Facebook post from Dr. Abdu Sharkawy. Dr Sharkawy refers to our current state as a “spellbinding spiral of panic” and “that travel restrictions will become so far reaching that weddings will be canceled, graduations missed and family reunions will not materialize. He goes on to say, “I’m scared those same epidemic fears will limit trade, harm partnerships in multiple sectors, business and otherwise and ultimately culminate in a global recession.”
I am going to bet here and now that an economist (or actuary) a year from now or sooner will calculate that more people will die from the fallout from the COVID-19 panic than from the actual disease itself. Millions could lose their jobs and livelihoods which in turn could lead to further impoverishment and adjacent fatalities.
So, what should companies do, assuming we won’t get any “confidence cover” from government officials? What should communicators say, beyond the templated, obligatory emails they’ve been sending their customers?
1. Always defer to and comply with local and federal authorities.
2. If you must, opt to delay planned events or activities and not cancel them outright and overcommunicate safety measures in advance and onsite.
3. Maintain open lines of communication with employees and update them regularly, always remaining calm. Stick to facts and don’t succumb to fury.
4. Lean on your emergency preparedness plans – allowing staff to work remotely and limiting travel if necessary – but only if necessary.
5. Don’t fall prey to corporate lawyers whose primary interest is “CYA” at all costs.
It’s time to spread calm. Don’t just wash your hands, wash yourself of hyperbolic media and hysteria.
Hear hear. The run on toilet paper in the United States is ridiculous. Please, be reasonable, take reasonable precautions, and for all our sakes, stay calm and don’t listen to CNN.
As a Christian, I trust the Lord. If he deems the present time to be the time He brings a plague, so be it. If He deems another time in future to do it, so be it. As Christians, we have the truth. Not CNN’s truth, nor even WHO or the US President’s truth, but THE truth. Our calmness and joy in the face of either a real pandemic or a manufactured hyped one will go a long way to pointing to the peace we have in Jesus.