One year later: What we know (and still don’t) about COVID-19

Photo: Olgierd via Flickr

Photo: Olgierd via Flickr

I know all health care journalists have been taking stock over the past year and how COVID-19 has changed everyone’s lives. For me, it’s been astonishing, exhausting, gratifying and heartbreaking to be a part of writing the first draft of this pandemic history.

Though I had been writing about the potential for a pandemic for years, I didn’t become genuinely scared that we were really heading towards a pandemic until Feb. 12, 2020. I had listened to a U.S. Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs hearing called, “Roundtable: Are We Prepared? Protecting the U.S. from Global Pandemics,” in which former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb warned committee members that it was likely that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was circulating undetected in the U.S. and we would be seeing the impact within a few weeks.

I quickly wrote a blog post for AHCJ on what was known about the U.S. hospital system’s preparedness for a pandemic. My colleague and AHCJ medical studies core topic leader Tara Haelle and I also wrote a post about resources for writing about COVID-19. The post ran a few days after Nancy Messionnier, the CDC’s director of the National Center of Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, warned the public to expect “disruption.” I also created a Twitter list of trusted COVID-19 experts to help journalists filter through the growing avalanche of information on social media and try to figure out what was going on.

I continue updating that Twitter list and adding resources to the core topic page for our members, as have all of our terrific core topic leaders. I want to thank all my colleagues who have dedicated most of their waking hours this past year to helping everyone understand the SARS-CoV-2 virus and what we can do to protect ourselves and our families.

I am especially grateful to the colleagues who offered me and other AHCJ core topic leaders their ideas, resources and time – check out all these great “How I Did It” and “Shared Wisdom” stories from the past year aimed at helping each of us do our work.

I hope that many of us will be able to meet up and share stories in person at the end of October in Austin at AHCJ’s annual health journalism conference.

For those of you looking for a big picture perspective of what we now understand from the past year, here is one of my favorites, written by AHCJ member Brenda Goodman for Medscape. “Year of COVID: Everything We Thought We Knew Was Wrong” walks us through what was understood then and now, and how the U.S. response went wrong, including the public health community’s misunderstanding of how contagious asymptomatic people were and the huge mistake in failing to prioritize masking.

“I think it’s important to remember, even though it seems like forever for all of us, we’re only a year into this outbreak. And so, it’s going to take us a while to sort through the mechanisms and what’s unique about this virus,” said Mark Heise, Ph.D., a professor of genetics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies host-virus interactions, in an interview with Goodman. “It has lots of secrets we haven’t worked out yet.”

For additional COVID-19 year-in-review resources, the Alliance for Health Policy has compiled a good list here. And of course, we at AHCJ will keep on updating our resources on our core topic pages. Please don’t hesitate to email bara@healthjournalism.org about resources and ideas we might have missed.

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