Access, transparency lacking in media coverage of coronavirus

Editor: Note reference to relaxation of HIPAA restrictions, perhaps significant here in Solano County.  – R.S.

The scariest aspects of the coronavirus are what we can’t see on TV

By Brian Stelter, CNN Business, Host on Reliable Sources, March 26, 2020

We see the daily counts of coronavirus cases and deaths; the long lines for tests; and the White House briefings where the president pretends the situation is not dire.

But we’re not able to see inside the emergency rooms and intensive care units where this invisible demon is being fought.

We’re not able to see the front lines. Or the full extent of the human suffering. We only hear about the battle through the testimonies of doctors and nurses; though the pleas of governors and mayors; and through interviews with patients who are well enough to call in via Skype.

Does this distort the public’s understanding of the virus? Does the lack of visibility make it hard for some folks to process how serious this pandemic is? I asked Esther Choo, emergency physician and health care advocate who started the #GetMePPE hashtag last week.

Yes, she said via text, “this whole thing has been hampered by its abstractness. I mean, half the interviews on TV that I’ve seen are totally well people pissed they didn’t get tested.” But they’re not the real faces of this pandemic — the hospitalized patients are. “The truth is, the sickest patients are terrifying,” Choo said. “They are air hungry, dropping their oxygen, confused, distressed. We can never show that. But it is terrifying.”

Choo put it this way: “What would the zombie apocalypse be like if we only had verbal descriptions of zombies, but could never show them?”

HIPAA restrictions and media ethics issues both stand in the way of having cameras in hospital corridors. So this crisis challenges reporters to get creative…

Painting ugly pictures with words

This graf of a must-read NYT story about the surge at NYC hospitals is the closest we can come to seeing inside the ER: “Rikki Lane, a doctor who has worked at Elmhurst for more than 20 years, said the hospital had handled ‘the first wave of this tsunami.’ She compared the scene in the emergency department with an overcrowded parking garage where physicians must move patients in and out of spots to access other patients blocked by stretchers.”

“Tomorrow will be worse”

Meredith Case, an internal medicine resident at Columbia, took to Twitter on Wednesday because she said the press “does not reflect our reality.” The deluge of patients “is here,” she wrote in the morning. “Our ICU is completely full with intubated COVID patients.” At night she signed off with this: “Today was the worst day anyone has ever seen, but tomorrow will be worse. We are on the precipice of rationing. Needless to say, these decisions run counter to everything we stand for and are incredibly painful…”

? Via the NYPost: “A stunning photo shared on social media shows three nurses at Mount Sinai West posing in a hallway while clad in large, black plastic trash bags fashioned into makeshift protective garb…”

? In Louisiana: “Number, rate of hospitalized patients also up…”

? In Michigan: Hospitals are “nearing capacity…”

New York (CNN Business) A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.