Saturday, December 4, 2021
Dec. 4, 2021

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From the Newsroom: What will happen when virus fades?

By , Columbian Editor
Published:

If you know much about me, you know that I am a proud alumnus of Washington State University. Having attended high school 15 miles away from the Pullman campus, is it any surprise I’ve been a Coug most of my life?

So it should come as no surprise that I don’t cheer for college teams wearing purple and gold. But I am a fan of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

That organization has kept careful track of the worldwide progression of COVID-19, and created models predicting the trend the disease will take. If you haven’t had a chance, give it a look at covid19.healthdata.org. For the United States, the data can be viewed by state; I’ve been watching the Washington trend line for several months. Lately, I really like what I am seeing. The projections at the time I wrote this column show new deaths trending downward from about seven per day statewide to a little less than one per day by the end of May. New cases are projected to fall to less than 30 per day statewide in that same time period, compared with about 700 new daily cases at the moment.

In a word, Whew!

But the anticipated good news made me wonder: How will the media tell the story? We are very good at telling stories about things happening to people. We aren’t as good at telling about what is not happening.

In fact, I would be surprised if there is a date that we are declared to be “over” COVID-19. But with relatively few people getting sick, the story eventually will disappear from daily news budgets. The question is, when? Bear with me while I pretend to be the head of the Butch T. Cougar Institute of Media Metrics.

I think that one of the first signs that the pandemic coverage is fading will be an end to the scorecard stories. Locally, that means the weekday Clark County case updates, and the obligatory daily Columbian story. The graphic on our front page will disappear. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a weekly update story and graphic for a while, probably to be published on Saturdays, since the last daily update of the week is released on Fridays.

The media in general and The Columbian in particular will focus on recovery stories. You’ll see stories about some workers returning to the office, and others who will continue to work from home permanently or part of the time. That in turn will lead to stories about traffic and how the pandemic has changed rush hour. How much do you want to bet that will lead to even more debate (and coverage) about the need to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge?

I see a lot of good stories coming from the education beat. How far behind on their learning are our kids? What can be done to help them catch up? How do we plug the wider achievement gap between kids who come from abundance and those who live with privation? Outside of academics, what social and emotional problems will affect a generation of children who were kept away from their peers and plopped in front of screens for a year?

What sorts of health problems will people face? Will there be negative health consequences for those of us who got fat and avoided the doctor? Will people who contracted COVID-19 face long-term health risks? When will COVID-19 “long-haulers” finally feel better? Will health insurance and health care become more costly as providers recover their pandemic costs?

What about our economy? Has our increased dependence on online shopping reduced the need for retail stores, leading to more ghost shopping centers? Will office space go unfilled as people work at home? How will that affect landlords and real estate investors? Will the air be cleaner if we don’t drive as much?

OK, I could probably go on for seven more paragraphs, but you get the idea. Even when the pandemic is “over,” we’re going to continue to read about it for a long time.

My final prediction: A lot of the upcoming coverage will seem negative, but there will be “good news” stories too. As you read the coverage, even if it seems negative, remember that we aren’t getting sick at the rate we were last year. If you don’t believe me, go ask the Huskies.

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