Guest Editorial: Covering COVID-19 Without Bluster and Bias

By Recker McDowell —

Arizona now has more than 150,000 COVID-19 cases and is closing in on 3,000 deaths from the virus.

Those are important for the media and social media influencers to report as we traverse the pandemic and its impacts on health and the economy.

The challenge is getting the national and local media to report on COVID-19 effectively and without political biases, grandstanding and fear mongering. Those work against credible efforts to inform the public on COVID-cases and deaths and keep tabs on where we are really at with the pandemic.

Too much coverage (national, local, and especially on social media) has focused on President Donald Trump and the political angles of COVID. Too much coverage and too many journalists and advocates on both sides of our political divides have cherrypicked the most fearful or most favorable COVID numbers.

That approach may preach to the choir, but it is counterproductive helping inform our communities about COVID.

Arizona’s 150,609 total COVID cases translate into 2,095 cases per 100,000 residents. Only New York has a higher rate (2,126 cases per 100,000 with New York City having 2.656.4 cases per capita). This a major public health concern. It should highlight issues such as access to health care, pre-existing conditions and COVID’s impacts on seniors, Hispanics, and Native Americans.

Fear inducing, blood-red graphics and journalists grandstanding at press conferences or on social media does not further the cause of getting essential COVID information to the public. Focusing on states (including Arizona and Florida) with Republican governors but ignoring or sugar coating the COVID situation in Democratic states such as California and New York shows coverage and social media posts are about political colors and not public health.

We need also need COVID numbers to be reported with perspective. Arizona has a high rate of per capita COVID cases, but its fatality rate is not as high. Arizona has had 2,974 Coronavirus deaths translating into 41.37 fatalities per 100,000 residents. That ranks 16th among U.S. states.

Rather than focusing on Trump and politics, it would be useful to learn why early wave states such as New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have had more deaths than Arizona, California, Texas, and Florida.  Why are some states such with differing approaches to COVID such as Oregon, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Oklahoma faring better in controlling the virus than others?

There are best and worst practices across the country on how to deal with COVID from everything from health care and protecting seniors to when and how to fully reopen the economy and schools. Are we getting that from social media or traditional media outlets?

Most of the case numbers are reported directly by state health agencies (including the Arizona Department of Health Services), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Johns Hopkins University.  You can dig into COVID-19 data directly and sidestep biases and fear mongering.

There is valuable media coverage of COVID-19 (including the New York Times’ data dashboard and stories about frontline workers, nurses, small business owners, and those have been stricken by the virus).

Those stories show how important a free press is. Unfortunately, the bluster and biases overshadow essential COVID coverage.