Student Voices Mar. 13 2020

In Coronavirus Crisis, Facts Matters More Than Ever

Amidst coronavirus news reports and articles about the volatile economy, another type of news was trending last week. In Barcelona, a 57-year-old man clad in a purple athletic suit climbed up a building in Barcelona—without any harness. The purpose behind his climb: to spread the message that “fear is more contagious than coronavirus.”

Columbia university mailman school of public health, marissa young The seriousness of the outbreak is clear, and there is a need for a fast and efficient response to protect the most vulnerable from getting sick. We are still in the early stages of being able to understand trends in the spread of disease and develop mass-producible tests.

However, as experts worldwide work tirelessly to track and develop containment strategies and treatments for the virus, it’s time for the public to step up and do their part. Misinformation has embedded itself into everyday life. With every sensationalist headline, false Facebook post, and unverified story, more unease is being perpetuated, and it’s harming our communities.

There have been racist attacks and comments towards Asian and Asian-American people. People have stopped eating at Chinese restaurants. People are using Tito’s vodka to make hand sanitizer. Masks are unavailable for healthcare workers. All of this is unwarranted and needs to stop.

COVID-19 has been compared to the SARS epidemic in 2003. However, from a health communications standpoint, we are in a completely new era of media. People are taking in information from so many more—and more disreputable sources—than they were in 2003. The social media landscape and speed at which we get news is completely different, and much more conducive to spreading panic.

Reputable organizations like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control have been providing accurate information about the coronavirus and how to avoid spreading infection. We have all heard the advice. Wash your hands. Avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes when out and about. Stay at home and seek medical advice if you are sick.

Let’s do our part, as public health students. Recommendations for social distancing has upended semesters and travel plans. But it also provides us the opportunity, as health professionals, to calmly set an example on how to reduce the spread of a pandemic.

Along with the CDC recommendations for minimizing the viral spread, let’s adopt strategies to instill calm in a time of uncertainty. Get your news from reputable sources. Avoid sharing unverified, sensational stories on social media. Continue your daily activities along with current guidelines. Take time for yourself to manage stress and reassure your family and friends.

When this pandemic is controlled, health communication experts should strategize how to minimize misinformation spread in the age of new media. Because even the most powerful hand sanitizer can’t wash away the anxiety being perpetuated through our society.

Marissa Young is an MPH candidate in the Department of Health Policy & Management. She received her BS in Public Health from The George Washington University.