With over 75,000 cases across 26 countries, as of Feb. 19 according to the World Health Organization (WHO), a novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has raised health concerns, caused city-wide shutdowns and made headlines around the world. On Jan. 31 just as the outbreak was escalating, the panic hit home, with two confirmed cases in Santa Clara County that weekend.
Across news media and social media alike, fear has characterized coverage of the COVID-19. In some cases, that fear took form in rumor and discrimination. Hashtags like #ChineseDontComeToJapan and accusatory, ill-informed posts about Chinese culinary subculture have followed at the heels of each WHO report, often inflating the reality of the statistics with rumors.
This manifestation of public panic has only exacerbated the situation. Scientists currently know little about the disease, and misinformation during such a health crisis is especially problematic. Part of the global response to COVID-19 has been characterized by the uncertainty and foreignness surrounding the disease, but speculation foments rumors rooted not in fact but in fear. These rumors have become part of the problem, clouding the true magnitude of the outbreak.
In times of panic, we can only calm such fears with fact. Our ability to confront difficulty depends on an accurate assessment of the danger at hand, and unfounded fear does us no favors in that regard. Before panicking, we need to first understand the true extent of the problem and adjust our response accordingly.
As journalists, we always remind each other, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” During our coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak, we kept this saying in mind, checking and rechecking our information as part of our duty as press to bring accurate and reliable facts to our readers. And now, we ask you to do the same and help us as informed readers — don’t spread hearsay and please dispel rumors whenever possible.