One of the side effects of a news environment where many institutions are competing for attention is the temptation to hype not-so-unusual events. You probably see a dozen examples every day, from the declaration that a comedian “DESTROYS” some GOP lawmaker, or that the death of a beloved celebrity brought “the entire world to a stunned halt,” or the sheer number of things described as an “existential threat,” or Joe Biden’s chronic abuse of the word “literally.”
The coronavirus is really serious, and thus, it doesn’t really need any extra hype or drama. A restaurant owner in Milan describing the mood as “psychosis” does not mean that Milan is gripped by mass psychosis. The likely slowdown in the economy does not necessarily mean we are in “economic turmoil.” There’s got to be some room for economic developments that are bad but not disastrous.
And it’s difficult to believe that the headline “Vladimir Putin’s Virus” in the Washington Post, atop an op-ed about Russian bots on social media, was not supposed to catch the eye of readers already thinking about the coronavirus.
It should not be surprising to see the number of cases increase dramatically; we are a culture obsessed with getting content to “go viral” on social media but have apparently forgotten what that phrase refers to and how quickly viruses can spread.
There’s a silver lining to the prospect that the coronavirus has been in the United States for six weeks and largely undetected. This would mean that a significant number of people are catching it and either not noticing any symptoms or thought that it was merely a cold or other mild ailment. This would suggest that many people’s immune systems can fight off the virus, and suffer symptoms so mild, they don’t believe anything is seriously wrong with them. This doesn’t mean that we have nothing to worry about — particularly those among us with preexisting health problems — but most of us should come through this okay.
Dr. Drew Pinsky, a man not usually known for on-air emotional outbursts, has been fuming on camera about the coverage, accusing the press of overreacting:
There are people walking around out there with the virus that don’t even know they have it, it’s so mild. So it’s going to be much more widespread than we knew. It’s going to be much milder than we knew. The 1.7 percent fatality rate is going to fall. . . .