Coronavirus is nothing to be taken lightly. For some, the virus is indeed deadly. In 2020, however, the world has more access to technology, media, and information than it ever has before. This wide influence the media has, rather than truth and facts, has played a unique role in the reaction and response to this pandemic, and it’s unlike anything the world has ever seen.
Is a mass shutdown necessary? If so, why is it necessary? These are both valid questions that, given the evidence that has emerged since the beginning of all this, probably didn’t get enough discussion. The tendency to react and to do so quickly is often necessary in times of crisis, but that type of reaction should be predicated on truth and fact. While there is usually a grain of truth in every outright lie or honest mistake, it seems that in this day and age of media dominance, opinions rather than the truth played the biggest role in promoting the shutdowns that swept the world.
To be clear, I am not disputing that anyone other than governments and world leaders had the final say in decisions of policy, nor am I definitively saying that shutdowns weren’t necessary (although I don’t personally believe they were to quite this extent). The argument is not whether shutdowns were or were not necessary, but that the discussion was seemingly one sided from the beginning and based in somewhat or mostly inaccurate information (whether accidental or deliberate) and that the media played a vital role in disseminating this information and stoking fear on an international level.
The tendency to react and to do so quickly is often necessary in times of crisis, but that type of reaction should be predicated on truth and fact.
COVID-19 vs. Ebola, H1N1, and SARS
COVID-19 isn’t the first virus to be of serious concern to the global community, but it’s certainly the first that has caused a reaction like this. SARS, for example, is actually a different type of coronavirus, and the two have a 79% genetic similarity. The symptoms are incredibly similar, with SARS actually having some more serious symptoms than COVID-19.
Although the high transmissibility is certainly a huge factor in the current shutdowns, SARS and other viruses like Ebola or H1N1 did not cause nearly as much of a panic or such a massive response as the one we’ve seen with this Coronavirus. Granted the number of SARS cases was significantly less, but the mortality rate (percentage of cases that end in death) was 15% whereas the Coronavirus’ mortality rate is drastically smaller at only 3.4%, and as low as 0.4% in certain areas.
If that discrepancy seems significant, it’s even more so when you compare the death rates of Coronavirus and Ebola. Of the nearly 29,000 global Ebola cases, the death rate sits at nearly 50% — substantially higher than that of Coronavirus. H1N1, while again not as contagious as Coronavirus, had a much higher total death toll, reaching over 284,000, whereas the current count for global Coronavirus deaths sits around 177,000.
Of the nearly 29,000 global Ebola cases, the death rate sits at nearly 50% — substantially higher than that of Coronavirus.
Again, the transmissibility is higher in Coronavirus and certainly something important to consider, but the difference in mortality rates and deaths is pretty staggering. When looking at numbers like these, I can’t help but wonder what the present day reaction would have been if the death rates were remotely close to those caused by Ebola. It’s worth noting that more transmissible or not, the actual number of deaths caused by other diseases, as well as their mortality rates, were in some cases much higher than those caused by COVID-19. Isn’t it worth considering that the increased presence of the media over the last few years is a possible factor in the current reaction?
Death Rates and Original Projections
All statistics can be skewed. It’s actually more common than not, and it’s critical to dive into how things are calculated and what the numbers really mean. In another Evie article, writer Katarina Bradford explains that the actual number of deaths caused by Coronavirus is probably much lower than reported. This is largely due to the fact that there isn’t a standardized way of testing for and recording the deaths of patients with Coronavirus.
The reporting problem occurs when two diseases are present, like in a cancer patient who contracts a cold. The cause of death is cancer because it’s the underlying condition at the root of the death and is recorded as such. But this isn’t necessarily how recording the cause of death is happening in Coronavirus cases. In fact the exact opposite is occurring, as Coronavirus is being recorded as the cause of death in patients with more serious underlying conditions. These ambiguous, if not outright false, death rates are the ones continually being reported by most of the mainstream media.
The original projections and fears of shortages and deaths that the virus would cause were also massively off.
In addition to the problem of the inaccurate calculation of death rates, the original projections and fears of shortages and deaths the virus would cause were also massively off. Original projections like those from the Imperial College London estimated that nearly 2.2 million were going to die in the United States alone. On March 28, The Hill cited an article from the National Review saying that “Models like this will always turn out to be wrong in some way or other, because they rely on very strong assumptions about aspects of the disease we haven’t thoroughly studied yet. If nothing else, the original Imperial model will be obsolete soon."
Nearly a month later, it seems they were spot on in their assumption that the Imperial Model would soon be obsolete, as it indeed has become. An AFA article cites a Tel-Aviv professor who pointed out that “it didn’t matter whether a country pursued a severe incarceration-in-place policy like Israel, or went about business as usual like Sweden, coronavirus followed precisely the same pattern. In the words of columnist Medina Melvin of Townhall, ‘coronavirus peaked and subsided in the exact same way’.”
Accurate numbers are important, and it’s shocking to see that when plotted, various responses had the exact same outcome. In an article the Los Angeles Times published back in March, Nobel Laureate and Stanford biophysicist Michael Levitt said that “unnecessary panic has been created by focusing on the relentless increase in the cumulative number of cases and spotlighting celebrities who contract the virus. ‘What we need is to control the panic,’ he writes. We’re going to be fine’.” Critical anecdotes like these from experts were virtually non-existent in the mainstream media or were buried deep in articles with misleading headlines.
Unnecessary panic has been created by focusing on the relentless increase in the cumulative number of cases and spotlighting celebrities who contract the virus.
In addition to the difficulty of simply finding accurate information, there has also hasn’t been a shortage of blatantly false stories. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said in their article that “fake news is putting lives at risk” and that “there seems to be barely an area left untouched by disinformation.” Guy Berger, the Director for Policies and Strategies regarding Communication and Information at UNESCO, said that “in a time of high fears, uncertainties and unknowns, there is fertile ground for fabrications to flourish and grow.” Berger elaborates that the main problem “when disinformation is repeated and amplified” is that eventually “information which is based on truth, ends up having only marginal impact.”
Despite many in the scientific community fully knowing the potential for problems in modeling and skewed projections, the media continued to push their “sky is falling” narrative.
What the Media Has To Gain
Most of us have the media in our pockets. In 2014, only 55% of the population had smartphones, but only six short years later that number has risen to over 80%. With all of us locked away in our homes, we’ve got ample time to increase the network ratings on news outlets broadcasting their 24/7 Coronavirus coverage. Fewer than half of Americans believe that the media provided a “clear view” of the dangers of Coronavirus, and 36% believe that the media overhyped everything. Maybe it’s for ratings and money, maybe it’s to push a certain political agenda. Regardless of which reason you choose to believe, the media certainly has plenty to gain from continuing the panic and lockdowns.
I do believe, though, that at the end of the day, it will always be the truth and the facts that come out on top. May we all open our eyes, do the hard work, and dig in to find and spread the truth.