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Fewer sources, more facts

A dispatch from the epicenter of the coronavirus / COVID-19 outbreak in the US

Sara Lobkovich
Sara Lobkovich
5 min read
Fewer sources, more facts

I had a different plan for this week’s issue but here we are. My family and I live in the Seattle area, so we’re in the US’s first-detected “hot spot” of community spread of coronavirus COVID-19.

In our region, we’ve had an odd mix of guidance and governmental responses so decision-making at the personal level remains clouded, especially by lack of actual data. Right now we are personally well. We’ve been taking common-sense precautions because I fall into the “high risk” category, with emphasis on the common-sense.

I’m (extremely) lucky that my employer (we’re hiring!) is taking a human-first approach: we have excellent medical insurance, paid sick leave and we’re on full time WFH as a precaution (with extra efforts being made to treat this phase as an opportunity to improve our distributed operation instead of an obstacle to getting work done). And many other major employers (that are able to) have transitioned to full time work from home for the next several weeks (and some are providing some support for hourly staff whose shifts are reduced because of the campus slow- and shut-downs).

But not everyone in our communities has that employer-provided safety net. My friends in restaurants, the service sector, retail, gig work and some in healthcare are personally affected in multiple directions: the risk of getting sick without health insurance; the lack of paid sick leave to be able to stay home if they do get sick; and the economic impacts of shifts cut and hourly earnings dropping when expense levels don’t change. The rent is the rent. Families’ fixed overhead doesn’t drop when shifts get cut.

I don’t have the answers. I do appreciate the voices speaking up for universal access to affordable health care, and paid sick leave, and assistance for the families and small businesses least able to weather a storm like this. No time like the present.

And this weekend I dug in to look for data and fact-based recommendations because between the news headlines and stories, our federal government’s response, and state and local sources I was hearing so many contradictions. I’m WFH but the kids are still in school, with all school activities continuing as normal, while some of the recommendations we’ve been hearing locally are to avoid any gathering larger than 10 people and socially distance at least 6 feet from other people.

None of this reconciles.

Do we go to the kids’ basketball game? (Yes, we did.) Do we keep up our gym habit? (Yes, we are — we’d lose our minds cooped up together without it unless and until the public health recommendations are updated.) Do I keep my routine doctor’s appointment on Friday or cancel to reduce the load on health care providers? (Yes, keep the appointment, my doctor says: they’re diverting symptomatic patients to another location.) Do we show up for our friends’ dinner party, the only chance we’ll get to see them during their visit from Uruguay? (Yes, I did.)

If I were only reading the headlines and reacting to every clip of media coming at me, the answer to all of those questions would probably be “No.”

But to make those decisions (and each one I make, at each step of each day) I took my own advice and decided: fewer, better. I’m looking to fewer sources, for better information to inform my own decision-making. And here are my top take-aways from that decision.

There is no perfect source of information, so choose a good one to guide your personal decision-making…

At this point, I’m not comfortable relying entirely on the CDC for reliable information and my social media feeds are a literal waterfall of sensational headlines and misinformation. After doing a little research this weekend I landed on the WHO Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak page and it answered my questions with fact-based and non-sensational information. So based on the WHO’s advice: I’m hand washing, taking reasonable social distancing precautions, and not touching my face.

…and choose another one (or two) for your news (and mute the rest).

After reading that common sense advice from the WHO, and then seeing the misinformation in my social feed filling the gaping hole left where actual data is not yet known, I’ve dramatically cut my consumption of information down to a short list of trusted sources. For me personally, that means the WHO, as well as:

because the Our World in Data page is doing a great job of actually aggregating the fact-based sources about this outbreak; and the Atlantic is doing a fair job of highlighting the real human issues related to this outbreak without as much sensationalizing (and anecdotalism) as I’m seeing in the general headlines.

This data visualization originated elsewhere, but OWID’s version made a particularly effective impact on me in understanding the responsibility we all share in following common-sense measures to slow the spread of the disease.

Flattening the curve 2

Beyond that, I’m getting good data-informed information from my employer here and there, but have otherwise essentially hit “mute” on other news.

I’ve also gone from a few Extremely Online weeks leading up to Super Tuesday to an extremely unplugged few weeks starting this week, and actually wound up locking my Twitter after being targeted by some follow-bots and even though I’m not using Twitter much this week, I still set up “mute keywords” for coronavirus-related terms. I’m getting my information elsewhere, and don’t need to hear what the Extremely Online have to say about coronavirus this week. I’ve been mostly off Facebook except for my podcast stuff for awhile, and based on what I see and hear over my husband’s shoulder as he scrolls, I have no regrets about sticking with that decision.

Because mass hysteria and misinformation doesn’t help anyone.

Hand-washing and common-sense social distancing does. And fighting social isolation by actually reaching out to friends, family and colleagues does as well. Social isolation is one of the biggest psychological risk factors for poor health.

A common theme here in Fewer Better is to balance creation and consumption: when the news cycle is what it is today, it’s easy to slip into infinite scroll consumption mode.

But it’s possible to stop scrolling and start writing messages instead, to check in on your people and re-connect even if it’s virtually or from a social distance.

With that, back to work. Be well. Wash your hands. Get some extra rest. Stay home if you’re sick, if you’re able to: and if you’re in that category, use some of your privilege to pressure elected officials to take steps to protect people who can’t.

See you in two weeks.


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