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Pandemics don’t make for good TV.
Health-based crises such as COVID-19 lack the strong, fresh visuals that TV craves.
Additionally, national TV programming is not equipped to handle a national crisis that takes different forms and moves at different paces around the country.
But, luckily for TV companies, most people are stuck at home and hungry for information. So TV ratings are way up. Even President Trump has bragged repeatedly about the big ratings he gets for his TV briefings on coronavirus.
Sadly, the quantity of viewers has little to do with the quality of information.
Yes, some TV new shows feature real medical specialists and offer informed discussion, but there are lots of dubious TV personalities posing as experts. Just as troubling are the increasingly strident efforts to further divide Americans by posing every issue as “us vs. them.”
There are many better sources of information, including newspapers, which do more to keep you informed of the status of local services, programs, stores and so on than any other resource.
Here are some others:
The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University offers global numbers and charts about COVID-19 cases. The site tells you where the disease is growing and declining and has solid information for states and countries worldwide. There’s also data on incidence rates, testing rates and other factors for every state in the country. That information is as important as counting confirmed cases.
The state of Kansas provides more localized information about which communities have infections, as well as some information on testing.
And the state Department of Health and Environment site offers information about directives, recommendations and other information.
A University of Washington website offers computer models that predict the pandemic’s peak in each state, and other interesting information. It’s far from perfect, given that scientists and technology experts rushed to develop the models without being able to calculate for a lot of local variables, but it’s been useful to state and local officials.
SciLine, a service that links journalists with experts in various scientific fields, has a website that gives easy-to-use information on states’ COVID-19 cases.
You may want to check out the website that grades all of us on stay-home efforts. The site uses geo-locating information from smart devices (cellphones and navigation systems, for example) to assess whether we’re traveling more or less compared to pre-pandemic days. Like all such systems, it’s not perfect, but it provides yet another metric for us to consider.
All of these good sources of information come with a caveat: There’s a lot more scientists don’t know about this virus than what they do know.
That’s contrary to what a lot of the gasbags on TV keep telling us. Over and over, they claim to know more than they do — about contagious diseases, the economy, constitutional law and on and on.
Never mind that the story may be quite different, depending on whether you live in Iowa or Virginia, Idaho or Florida, Michigan or Missouri.
If ever there was a time when we need information without spin — facts without hype – this is it.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers across Kansas.