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Coronavirus Files: Long COVID hits POC, CDC lifts the mask, reporters suffer burnout

Coronavirus Files: Long COVID hits POC, CDC lifts the mask, reporters suffer burnout

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Since Apri 2020, the Center for Health Journalism has been publishing a special newsletter geared to journalists as they report on one of the biggest and most complex stories of our times. Each Monday, while the pandemic runs its course, The Coronavirus Files will provide tips and resources and highlight exemplary work to help you with your coverage. This week, The Center for Health Journalism’s Coronavirus Files Monday newsletter is curated and reported by science writer Amber Dance, PhD. Have a suggestion or a request? Write us at
5/19 Webinar: Policing, race & community safety one year later
Learn about the price society pays for a system that disproportionally arrests, punishes, and kills Black people. More details below. Register for the free event here.
Long COVID expected to hit communities of color harder
People of color are likely to be more affected by the burden of long COVID, the mysterious and chronic symptoms that can occur after a bout of the coronavirus, reports Elizabeth Cooney at STAT. It’s hard to quantify the issue, because data are scarce on the races and ethnicities of people with lingering symptoms, but experts widely predict an emerging disparity. While Cooney describes several long COVID specialty clinics aiming for patient groups that mirror their communities, patients at many clinics have often been white and wealthy, Pam Belluck of the New York Times said during a recent Center for Health Journalism webinar.
Disparities in health care access are a major contributing factor, writes Cooney; people of color may have a tougher time trying to find and visit clinics during working hours as well as concerns about the bill if they’re uninsured or underinsured. And Black people have learned to anticipate discrimination or disbelief from physicians, noted Dr. Monica Lypson, co-director of a COVID-19 recovery clinic in Washington, D.C.: “Now that you have these kind of nonspecific symptoms, it’s even harder to say, ‘OK, I’m a go and advocate for myself.’”
CDC breaks its conservative streak
The CDC made an uncharacteristically bold move last Thursday when it announced people who’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 can leave their masks off indoors and out. The new guidance came a mere two weeks after the CDC said vaccinated people should continue to mask up indoors, and in the wake of criticism over the agency’s ponderous pace in updating its recommendations.
Republican lawmakers had grilled CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky just two days before the latest shift was announced, accusing the agency of eroding public trust with its confusing guidelines, writes Shannon Firth in MedPage Today. Health experts have made similar accusations — for example, about the agency’s slugging acknowledgements that the virus can be transmitted through air but rarely via surfaces. David Leonhardt of The New York Times criticized the CDC’s estimate that fewer than 10% of transmission events occur outdoors as technically accurate but grossly misleading — the true figure, he suggests, is probably well under 1%. It’s “akin to saying that sharks attack fewer than 20,000 swimmers a year,” Leonhardt wrote, when annual shark attacks really total about 150. Walensky said the "less than 10%" figure came from an article in the Journal of Infectious Disease.
The problems precede Walensky’s tenure. The recent book “The Premonition” by Michael Lewis is a “sweeping indictment of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention” going back to early days of the pandemic, according to Rachel Martin at NPR. Lewis argues that the agency has become dangerously politicized, and that it waited too long to recognize the coronavirus for the terror it was.
It’s natural to wonder whether the new, more permissive masking guidelines are a response to such criticisms, or an effort to dangle a carrot in front of the substantial number of people who are hesitant to get the vaccine. When queried by reporters at a White House press briefing, Walensky pointed instead to science: U.S. case rates continue to sink; adolescents as young as 12 are now eligible for vaccination; and studies continue show the vaccines are effective, even against variant viruses.
But many epidemiologists aren’t ready to drop the masks just yet. Eric Feigl-Ding of the Federation of American Scientists tweeted that he was “not pleased at all,” saying it’s “too early.” Katelyn Jetelina, who blogs at Your Local Epidemiologist, opined that this change will do little to encourage vaccination, and could backfire. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we had another wave this summer,” she wrote.
Journalists covering COVID beyond burned out
Olivia Messer was the lead COVID-19 reporter for The Daily Beast until this spring, when the chronic trauma of pandemic coverage led her to resign. And her work experience was indeed a type of trauma, Messer writes in a well-researched article on Study Hall. She spoke with several reporters and editors who have struggled during the pandemic; many felt unequipped to handle the ongoing, overwhelming tragedy and unsupported by their bosses. Journalists felt “burned out,” “totally drained,” or simply “ruined.” Others were harassed, sometimes online but also in person, at dangerously close physical distances.
Messer echoes what journalists said at a recent Cornell University panel discussion on science journalism during the pandemic. “There were many nights when I got up at 3 a.m. and just went to work,” said Jon Cohen of Science. Panelists also noted that typically reliable sources, such as the CDC and the White House, were suddenly suspect. Messer writes that there are ways newsrooms can mitigate these stresses, but only once they acknowledge the problem.
From the Center for Health Journalism
Policing, race and community safety: One year after George Floyd
May 19, 11 a.m. PT: This month marks the sober anniversary of the police killing of George Floyd. In our next webinar, we’ll examine the price our society pays for a criminal-legal system that disproportionately arrests, punishes and kills Black people. How does the system shape health and life outcomes? How might we break seemingly intractable patterns by understanding police violence as a public health and social crisis? And how can reporters best cover on this fraught and evolving story in original and powerful ways? Register here.
What we're reading
  • “ICE allowed COVID-19 breakouts and concealed hospitalizations, a new report shows,” by Noah Lanard, Mother Jones
  • “In COVID vaccine data, LGBTQ people fear invisibility,” by Jillian Kramer, The New York Times
  • “The J&J rescue mission starts with a choice,” by Katherine J. Wu, The Atlantic
  • “Coronavirus strain fueling India crisis is the newest ‘variant of concern’ and is spreading globally,” by Joel Aschenbach, The Washington Post
  • “People aren’t ‘addicted’ to wearing masks, they’re traumatized,” by Shayla Love, Vice


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Are you passionate about helping journalists understand and illuminate the social factors that contribute to health and health disparities at a time when COVID-19 has highlighted the costs of such inequities? Looking to play a big role in shaping journalism today in the United States? The USC Center for Health Journalism seeks an enterprising and experienced journalism leader for our new position of “Manager of Projects.” 



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