New tip sheet: Ten things to know when covering COVID-19

About Bara Vaida

Bara Vaida (@barav) is AHCJ's core topic leader on infectious diseases. An independent journalist, she has written extensively about health policy and infectious diseases. Her work has appeared in the National Journal, Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg News, McClatchy News Service, MSNBC, NPR, Politico, The Washington Post and other outlets.

The coronavirus (Image courtesy of the CDC)

It has been exactly two years (December 8, 2019) since Wuhan, China health authorities first discovered viral pneumonia cases of unknown cause in several people connected to a seafood market. In January 2020, Chinese health officials officially sequenced the virus, SARS-CoV-2, the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since then, scientific understanding of the virus has continuously evolved, sometimes hourly, creating an unprecedented challenge for all journalists to both stay on top of the news, as well as report accurately on what is known and unknown. 

As the end of 2021 approaches, there are still so many aspects of the COVID-19 disease that aren’t understood, but AHCJ has created a tip sheet with ten things to know that we hope will serve as a quick guide for those who are new to covering COVID-19 and for those who have been covering it for a while and might be looking for new resources.

The tip sheet includes key terminology, newsletters and Twitter lists you might want to sign up for to stay up to date on the news, credible experts vetted by AHCJ journalists, sources for combatting misinformation, what to know about covering research studies, a COVID-19 pandemic timeline, mental health resources, best places to find data and five ground-breaking stories that helped us all understand where we were and where we are with the pandemic.

As I look back to early 2020, among the many initial big misunderstandings by public health officials about the SARS-CoV-2 virus was that it was thought to be spreading between people solely like influenza viruses, which transmit through respiratory droplets via coughing and sneezing. Public health officials didn’t understand that the virus was also airborne and could transmit between people without symptoms. It took months, if not more than a year to understand that ventilation was just as important in reducing transmission of the virus as standing 6 feet apart and sanitizing items that people might touch. That isn’t to say that social distancing and washing hands aren’t still important. They are, but when a person is inside, standing 6 feet apart likely isn’t enough in a space with poor ventilation. Mask wearing and ventilation are key.

Many health reporters also didn’t think scientists and companies could develop a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 in less than 12 months, given that the fastest that a vaccine had ever been developed was four years. The science involved in developing the COVID-19 vaccines remains among the most incredible stories of the past two years. 

There remain many more questions and stories to report as the pandemic continues into 2022 — like what is the origin of the virus and why do some people develop long-COVID? We will be updating our tip sheets and resources to help you in your reporting. Many of you have sent tips and story ideas and resources that we missed, so please keep submitting them to me at bara@healthjouralism.org

Leave a Reply