Dwindling coverage of COVID-19 in the media and why it matters
Public fatigue and diminished monitoring are just some of the reasons the virus isn’t making its way to the headlines, but are we letting our guards down too soon?
For many of us, the return to in-person learning and the rolling back of public health measures, including mask mandates, signaled light at the end of the tunnel. However, with our newfound optimism, we’ve entered a period of social neglect, and the decline in COVID-19 media coverage has only made it easier to forget about the ongoing pandemic.
Decreased engagement with content and information concerning COVID-19 is forcing news outlets to shift their focus on other, more profitable stories, ultimately, challenging journalists as they try to communicate critical news about the virus.
“It is difficult to reach people . . . People [are] done hearing about the pandemic despite it not being done. So, journalists are finding new [ways] to bring us this information [and] are having to fight for this coverage,” said Moisse.
Limited amplification of these stories in the media combined with public disinterest continues to hinder meaningful engagement with these news stories, which could hold serious implications for public health.
As we head into a particularly daunting flu season, with the triple threat of COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus, there is a growing need for journalists to actively report on the progression and spread of these viruses.
“It’s important that we not drop the ball on this story, it’s such a big part of our lives,” explained Moisse.
Throughout the pandemic, journalists have played an important role in influencing the public’s response to COVID-19 through the dissemination of accurate and reliable information. However, I believe journalists have played an even greater role in exposing the cracks in our systems to inform government action and policies.
Dr. Ana Tomljenovic-Berube, assistant professor teaching global human health and disease in the school of interdisciplinary science, shared that COVID-19-related public health monitoring has also begun to fade away without preventative measures in place. Currently, Public Health Ontario offers weekly updates on case counts as province-wide testing has ramped down. Still, the reported numbers paint a grim picture.
On the week of Oct. 23 alone, a staggering 9,797 COVID-19 cases were recorded and this number does not include positive cases identified through independent rapid antigen testing. Yet these alarming case counts and the increasing number of hospitalizations are not always making their way to front-page news.
“We are beginning to see a rapid rise in [influenza and RSV] infections likely due to lack of preventative measures. However, having the [triple threat], which we haven’t dealt with before, will lead to much more dire circumstances and this is what we’re starting to see in pediatric wards,” explained Tomljenovic-Berube.
The McMaster Children’s Hospital, which recently reached maximum capacity, presents an example of the overwhelming burden being experienced by healthcare facilities across the province as they grapple with the combined spread of COVID-19, flu and RSV.
Some institutions are already acting on scientific evidence from the flu season forecasts to implement protective measures. For instance, the University of Waterloo reinstated its mask mandate on Nov. 9 to enhance the health and safety of students and staff.
Regardless of mandated measures or dwindling media coverage, it is important to remember that we can take personal precautions to keep ourselves and those around us safe as we continue to learn in-person in closed and congregate settings.
“The things that have been protecting us all of this time will continue to protect us if we are diligent about their usage . . . We all need to take responsibility as a society to protect each other,” said Tomljenovic-Berube.
We need to recognize the pandemic is not over yet, even if the headlines fail to emphasize the current infectious disease crisis. And recklessly ignoring these escalating public health threats at our own discretion poses a risk to not only ourselves, but to all the vulnerable individuals around us.