Trying to stay on top of COVID news? We have no choice but to do so, to best protect ourselves and our loved ones. It’s stressful and draining, but we have to do it.
This post is paraphrased and shortened from an article by Alanna Shaikh, a global public health expert and a TED Fellow, for tips on how to navigate this information overload while staying safe and sane (for full article, see here ).
1. Look for news that you can act on
When you’re trying to figure out what stories to stay on top of, ask yourself: “Will having this information benefit my life or my work? Will it allow me to make better-informed decisions?”
Accumulating masses of information that you can’t use isn’t so helpful.
For most people, the most critical information for you to follow is how the virus is transmitted. Scientists are still learning every day about how people get infected.
2. Turn to trusted sources
If something reaches you on your whatsapp or instagram in Blikkiesdorp, chances are people professionally covering the pandemic heard it before you did.
So go and see what they say about it. COVID-19 has been heavily politicized, and even some major news sources are basing their content more on opinion than on science.
You can generally trust the accuracy of top news sources like Nature, Wired and The New York Times — to name three examples. Why? Cos their reputations are at stake. And they have the kind of budget that lets them hire full-time journalists who will stand by the facts or who rely on fact-checkers to verify their information. Unfortunately, you also have to check your fact-checkers. Use reputable ones like these eight listed here. In Africa we have Africa Check.
3. Check where their information is coming from
No-one actually KNOWS, so be wary of articles or sources that claim to have a definite answer to a complex question. Be especially wary of forwarded stuff on your social media. The way posts go viral is by being controversial or scary, not by being true.
For example, Dr. Anthony Fauci is currently saying that there should be a vaccine for COVID-19 in early 2021;
the Gates Foundation has a longer estimate; and others are warning that we may never have a vaccine for it.
Right now, there is no consensus about a timeline — these people and organizations are simply offering their best guesses. Use fact-checking sites – find one here. Even when a vaccine “arrives” it will be a while before you or I get one; and a while before enough people get one to potentially be effective; and even then, only time will tell the actual outcome. The much-hyped ‘fastest’ vaccines are using RNA for the first time. Proven vaccines actually injected an antigen which your body responded to; RNA vaccines will inject instructions to your body cells to MAKE an antigen, which your body will THEN need to respond to. There’s an extra step. Let’s hope it works, lasts, etc.
4. Look for news that works for you
For ordinary people whose expertise lies outside global health — i.e. most people — look for trusted sources of information that you can read and digest without having to devote your whole day (or brain) to it. Like the Think Global Health website; it’s aimed at passionate non-experts. It’s not dumbed down, but it doesn’t assume you have a PhD.
Johns Hopkins University is publishing some great work on COVID — more technical, but not too technical.
So is Vox; they have some terrific explainers.
5. Be prepared to change your behavior based on new information
No source is perfect, but that doesn’t mean you should disbelieve all sources. Research constantly changes and informs and shapes our ideas.
Remember when wiping down surfaces was the MAIN thing? Now, reputable organizations and scientists basically agree on masks, contact tracing and the existence of transmission of COVID by people who aren’t showing symptoms. If you get sick you will probably never know who ‘gave it to you,’ as they would have felt as healthy as you did the day the virus was transmitted.
Some of this info may change again, but we need to keep going along with best practice AS FAR AS WE KNOW TODAY.
6. Refrain from arguing with people who ignore the facts
Save your breath. Yours and theirs might be contagious!
You WON’T change their minds.
You are not a law enforcer.
Like it or not, this situation isn’t going anywhere. This pandemic is awful and complicated and changing. Finding our way through it won’t be smooth, nor easy, nor emotionally comfortable. It’s a constant, dynamic process of learning new things and adapting as we learn.
That lovely pic is from the cover of Wits Review Oct 2020, magazine for University of the Witwatersrand alumni.