Reporting COVID-19 news, calling for calm is a balancing act

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This week’s front page is not meant to cause concern. It’s not meant to foment fear and panic. It’s meant to inform.

Trying to inform but not have the appearance of feeding a frenzy in light of the rapidly developing events surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak is a challenge. I do not like nor care for sensationalism.

At the same time the national and worldwide response to this virus is historic. We’ve never seen anything like this in how it has developed so rapidly and affected our economy. Travel is discouraged and the government is telling us that gathering in groups of 10 or 15 or more is not a good idea. Schools have been closed for at least two weeks. Nursing homes have gone on lockdown and hospitals are discouraging visitors. Those measures are meant to protect not only the patients but also the healthcare workers who are at the frontline of the fight against this virus. People are being urged to stay at home if at all possible and practice “social distancing,” which is staying at least six feet away from others when out in public. The idea is to limit the ability of the virus to spread and “flatten the curve,” or slow down the influx of people who are infected and seeking medical care. Too many people seeking treatment at once could rapidly overwhelm our healthcare system and providers, which are stretched thin as it is.

Add all this to what it’s doing to our economy and the situation is just made worse. There are estimates that as many as 1 million jobs could be lost in the next 30 days as business close, temporarily or permanently. The tourism and travel industries have been hardest hit so far, but many other businesses, including restaurants, are taking a gut-punch as well. Car dealerships that started the month on record pace have suddenly found their showrooms empty as people are shutting down spending on anything but the essentials – or 16 tons of toilet paper, if they can cram it into their Priuses. The effects will ripple far and wide as manufacturing screeches to a halt because of a decline in consumer activity, which will lead to layoffs. The stock market has lost more than 30 percent of its value in the last three or four weeks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered its third-worst day in history on Monday, March 16, with a loss of 2,997 points, or 12.9 percent. 

Given all that I’ve just written and the chaos in which we’re living, the important thing to do is just breathe – through a mask if you wish – but just take a deep breath, wash your hands, use common sense and don’t panic. Panic causes us to do things and respond in ways that might not be in our best interest, such as hoarding supplies from stores and thus preventing our neighbors from getting things they need. Such behavior is not helpful and, frankly, not very Christian. Continuously pray for God’s guidance and provision through this time; that will help keep you grounded.

There are times where I wish we were back on a 24-hour news cycle instead of a 24-second news cycle. News didn’t spread as fast and everyone had more time to process the information being received. Now, we’re hit from so many sides with so much information at such blinding speed that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Do know that it’s also OK to decouple from the news; you don’t have to have your phone in front of your face every single minute, and you don’t have to watch the talking heads on the TV outlets. Remember, they get paid to fill airtime and if they’re not talking about something, they’re not doing their job. Their job is to keep you glued to the screen, too. That is not healthy.

As one who is tasked with dispensing the news, I’ll do my best to try to inform without feeding a notion of panic as we move in uncharted territory. Just know I have no interest in spreading fear. 

Jason Collum is publisher of The Red Bay News.