Sensationalism Screams Bloody Murder!

| April 7, 2020 | 0 Comments

Okay, I am guilty. Yes, guilty of a sensational headline. You will forgive me, of course, because I did so to make a point. Consider the following paragraph from AP (Associated Press), concerning the “news” about COVID-19 in New York.

As coronavirus cases soared, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio asked New Yorkers on Thursday to wear a face covering when they go outside to prevent the spread of the virus. Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned that the state’s supply of breathing machines could be exhausted in six days. And the COVID-19 death toll climbed to at least 2,400. While New York City remained a hotspot, there were troublesome trends around the state as the outbreak spread to every county. Unemployment filings skyrocketed too, as the pandemic wreaked economic havoc.

Did you notice the sensationalism? Look at some of the wording used: soared, warned, exhausted, hotspot, troublesome, skyrocketed, wreaked, and havoc.

All is woe, right?

Is it really a disaster that the state has six days of breathing machines available, when the federal government has plainly stated that it has almost 10,000 ventilators stockpiled around the nation, ready to be shipped overnight express to any hospital that needs them? The federal government is stockpiling them to prevent hospitals that may not need them just yet from hoarding them, and the military is set to hand-deliver ventilators within hours to any hospital that truly needs them.

More could be said on that paragraph, but consider this headline as well: “Some states receive masks with dry rot, broken ventilators.”

So Alabama received a shipment that contained 6,000 dry-rotted masks. What percentage is 6,000 masks among millions being distributed around the world? In the hustle to find all available masks, is it any wonder that a few old ones were found somewhere that were not in good shape? Is this a worthy headline?

Sensationalism is so common in secular news that people can no longer easily recognize it as a tactic to stir their emotions, to create a sensation that provokes a reaction. Now that the general public is not so much concerned about numbers of deaths (the numbers sort of jumble together after a while), more headlines are screaming about morgues filling up with dead bodies—along with a photo of dozens of caskets or sheet-covered bodies.

How secular media can affect health

The following quote is from the journal Health Psychology. I have removed the citations from this quote, because, for this article, they are beside the point:

In the past decade, several studies have demonstrated that both the type and amount of media exposure affect psychological and physical responses to a community-wide traumatic event. Following the Boston Marathon bombings, for example, we found a strong positive association between the amount of exposure to bombing-related media coverage and acute stress symptoms. People who reported the highest media exposure reported higher acute stress than did people who were directly exposed to the bombings. These associations also appear to accumulate over time; as threats continue to emerge, repeated high levels of media exposure to these kinds of events may create a cycle of distress. People with the greatest concerns may seek out more media coverage of the event, further increasing their stress response. (Garfin, D. R., Silver, R. C., & Holman, E. A. (2020, March 23). The Novel Coronavirus (COVID-2019) Outbreak: Amplification of Public Health Consequences by Media Exposure. Health Psychology. Advance online publication.

The underlining of the one sentence is by me. Did you catch what it said? People who were bombarded with media coverage about the Boston Marathon bombings were more stressed out about it than the people who were actually at the site when it happened!

Now, consider what that article recommends:

Although it is critical for the media to convey information to the public to promote appropriate health protective behaviors and effective institutional responses, it is imperative that information be conveyed without sensationalism or disturbing images. The public, in turn, should be advised to avoid speculative stories and limit repetitious exposure to media stories that provide little new information, while staying abreast of critical updates. We recommend that the public rely on authoritative sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or WHO for the most up-to-date information regarding transmission, protecting one’s health, and community-level threats.

Again, the underlining is mine. Is this sensationalizing against spending too much time following COVID-19? Consider what the U.S. CDC (Centers for Disease Control) suggests concerning COVID-19: "Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting." This time, the bolding is not mine, but is from the CDC.

Let’s not allow the media to skewer our thinking by bombardment of sensationalized stories!

Loving truth

Lovers of truth have to find their way amid the screams of some and the silence of others. What truth is it that some may be keeping silence about, some truth that really should be brought into consideration?  The Bible speaks great wisdom when it tells us to “buy the truth and sell it not.” Hang on tenaciously to reality; let us not permit the screams nor the silence turn us to the left nor to the right.

With these thoughts in mind, we plod into the fray of COVID-19, and see if we can determine where the matter appears to be truly heading.

Checking into the silence

When trying to find truth, we sometimes need to dig into the silence. Is something not being said that should be? Look, for example, at this curve chart, supplied by the U.S. COVID-19 Task Force on March 31.

What we see on this curve chart is that the number of deaths is about 1/10 if there is “intervention,” meaning social distancing and other measures. This graphic illustrates, very clearly, the effectiveness of lockdown tactics.

But what is missing on this chart? The rest of the story is missing!

The rest of the story

The above chart only shows the first cycle of the disease. No dates are on this particular chart, but an accompanying chart in that presentation put this same data on a timeline of about 6-8 weeks. But what happens after that time frame? Consider this chart:


Curve chart of Covid-19 cases, showing a second wave

Copyright by Nature magazine; used under Fair Use educational stipulations of U.S. copyright law.

So, will the social distancing measures save hundreds of thousands of lives? Not according to the second wave model. But looking at this matter without sensationalism (this second wave graph could be used sensationally), lives will be saved by social distancing, only the number will not be hundreds of thousands. Social distancing measures can save lives in three manners:

  1. If the medical care system is not overwhelmed, and cases are spread out, all of the seriously sick can have a chance at better health care. If overwhelmed, some may have to be refused medical care.
  2. If the disease spread is slowed down, this will give time to develop a vaccine.
  3. If the disease spread is slowed down, effective testing and quarantining of only the infected could eventually be implemented, rather than widespread shutdowns.

Now, let’s consider whether this second graph is telling us everything we need to consider. If a second wave is coming, couldn’t it also be flattened by social distancing? What if we could flatten each curve until a vaccine could be developed? Would not that be a worthy goal? Of course, we also need to consider the aspect of the economic negatives of too much social distancing measures. Most people agree that at some point, too much shutdown could be worse than COVID-19. However, each succeeding resurgence is likely to be smaller and smaller until the population has built up some immunity and it flattens out to a yearly level.

So, in our search for truth, we have found (based upon models, which are not 100% reliable) that social distancing measures are effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and similar diseases, but that the negative side is that there will likely be a second wave, which will also need more shutdowns. These second and third (and possibly more) waves will likely be smaller and more localized than the first wave.

Also, we have to realize that all of us will, most likely, get COVID-19 sooner or later (unless a vaccine is developed), and that some of us are going to die no matter what, either in the first wave or a later wave. Social distancing does not stop all deaths, it only spreads them out, and saves only those who would not be able to access health care in an overwhelmed system, until a vaccine is developed … or God intervenes.

More inspection of the silence

Italy’s high COVID-19 death rate is well known, the highest in the world. As of this writing, there have been right at 15,000 deaths. But did you know that during the 2016/2017 season, Italy suffered just under 25,000 deaths from flu? Now, that could be sensationalized, so let’s take a broader view: For the period from 2013 to 2017, there were more than 68,000 flu deaths in Italy, averaging 17,000 flu deaths per year. This means that, at the current date, Italy’s COVID-19 deaths are still under the average annual flu death rate, and a good ways off from the peak flu year.

However, let’s not sensationalize that: The COVID-19 death numbers are stacking up quickly, and very likely they will pass 25,000 before it’s over. However, all of this suddenly puts the COVID-19 situation into a more manageable light, since we have a reference point. But with the constant bombardment by the secular press of how many die each day from COVID-19 (but without any reference point), we can become sensationalized into thinking irrationally.

Where is COVID-19 headed?

As of this writing, China is considered to be pretty much “over the hump,” but still in a careful watching stage to keep down fresh outbreaks. Italy appears to be past the peak, but still experiencing relatively high numbers of deaths. Spain is also cautiously feeling like they may be past the peak. Again, we need to remind ourselves, a resurgence is a real possibility now that the virus is in practically all corners of the world.

In the rest of the world, most nations are just beginning the upward climb. Cities are doing worse than rural areas, and data is repeatedly reflecting that it is primarily people over 70 who are the hardest hit. People who smoked, are overweight, or have heart/respiratory issues are among those who are more likely to die if infected.

One big factor just now being discussed more is that a good number of people who get the virus will be asymptomatic, meaning they will show zero signs of sickness. Yet these people can still spread the disease (how much so, though, is not clear). This affects the matter in two ways:

  1. Some are now pushing for everyone to wear a mask in public, since asymptomatic people can spread the virus. But other health officials are opposed to calling for the universal wearing of masks because they are not 100% effective, there is a shortage of masks and hospitals need them most, and people wearing a mask may think they cannot get infected and will begin to ignore other prevention measures that are more important.
  2. If 25% (a current common number, although the real rate is unknown) of infected people are asymptomatic, this effectively flattens the fatality rate quite a bit. China was not counting asymptomatic cases until April 1, for example.

Along with asymptomatic cases, we also need to be aware that the death percentage figures that we see posted daily do not include people who are infected but have mild symptoms and stay at home and never get tested. No one knows how many are in this category, so the published death rates are higher than reality.

Iceland has had the most thorough testing so far (when using the tests per capita as the basis). Being a small nation, they have been able to quarantine the infected and keep things under control better than most other nations. The death rate in Iceland is from .01% to .19%, the lowest in the world. Because of their more widespread testing, these numbers may represent what is happening in other nations who are not able to test their larger populations. In the UK, for example, tests were only given to people who were sick enough to require at least one night in the hospital.

In practical terms, what does all this mean? The current world total (as I am writing this) is showing 1,140,327 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 60,887 deaths. The calculator shows this to be .053 death rate, or 5.3%.

But this figure is nowhere near the actual fatality rate, because no one knows how many people have COVID-19, but have not been tested. This includes asymptomatic people and people who have mild symptoms (mild symptoms are about 95% of infected people, although some mild cases are being tested and reported in the daily figures). When these unknowns are factored in using estimated numbers by the Center for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University, the death rate will be between .1% and .3%. But just a reminder, the asymptomatic cases and unreported mild cases are estimates based on limited data.


Let us be careful not to let others sensationalize us. At the same time, there can be a tendency on our part to react to the sensationalism and ignore reality; let’s not ignore that we have another serious disease among us, and we should do our part to keep it from spreading.

In Part 2 of this article, we want to look at how we should not let the fear of death dominate our thinking, while at the same time not ignoring the fact that death is real and will be happening at a greater rate during next few weeks.

~Mike Atnip

Category: Public

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