Every month, our team compiles a short Twitter analysis of media coverage of the pandemic, Long COVID, and issues facing high-risk populations. We do this to keep tabs on media narratives and how they are shifting (or not shifting), and hold the press accountable for their coverage. We also offer guidance to individual reporters, newsrooms, and news organizations covering Long COVID and related conditions
July’s media coverage was a mixed bag, featuring a bizarre LA Times column that glorified Covid-19 “brain fog” as a respite from a Parisian vacation, and numerous articles that treat Long COVID as entirely mysterious, ignoring related infection-initiated diseases. We also noticed a trend in June and July of journalists testing prevalence estimates by interrogating whether they individually know one in five people with Long COVID – ignoring inequities that may lead to lower prevalence in some communities. Finally, we tracked several articles that considered experimental treatments for Long COVID, by implying patients are at fault for seeking untested “cures.”
In better news, we listened to an excellent Freakonomics podcast that explained how a lack of research into ME/CFS is now impacting people with Long COVID. We also saw more media coverage of Long COVID in kids, and increased coverage of Long COVID generally from The Today Show and Forbes.
In June, we saw articles demonstrating trends in coverage that we’d like to see more of – there were several articles on Long COVID prevalence that made clear that even if prevalence is lower than estimated, the disease will still have staggering impacts on the economy and healthcare system. An article in the Washington Post on this topic included a good analysis of survey questions about disability (and why some surveys may fail to capture Covid-19 long-haulers), while an article in The Atlantic considered how high COVID death rates among disabled people may impact statistics on disabled populations and why Long COVID patients sometimes apply for SSDI under different diagnoses.
TIME published a good example of how reporters can cover breaking pandemic news and the future of the pandemic, while not ignoring Long COVID, and there were other good stories on indoor ventilation and mitigation efforts that have become irrelevant (like, standing six feet apart). Meanwhile, The New Yorker and The New York Times continued to publish pieces that minimize the impact of Covid-19 and Long COVID.
In May, we saw slightly better overall coverage, which made us wonder if rising case levels and surges provided a newsworthy hook for journalists to explore Long COVID and issues facing high-risk populations. But, Long COVID doesn’t stop existing when case levels dip, and high-risk populations haven’t experienced safety or support since this pandemic began. Some of the articles we liked included a piece on the impact of Long COVID on educators (we need more articles that look at the workforce and specific industries that have been working in-person), the potential of Paxlovid as a Long COVID treatment, issues facing undocumented long-haulers, and vaccines’ very minimal effect at preventing Long COVID. The New York Times also published several good explainers on Long COVID – we’d really like to see them tackle post-exertional symptom exacerbation next. We were also grateful that most health and science journalists ignored a relatively small study that some Twitter enthusiasts misunderstood as evidence that Long COVID is caused by psychological problems.
Unfortunately, articles about the pandemic’s future still tend to mostly ignore Long COVID, and a host of COVID minimizers keep writing op-eds that assume everyone has equal access to healthcare and that Long COVID doesn’t exist! One such op-ed coined the term “coronaphobia,” which is especially problematic, given that we just reached a million deaths in the United States and even more people are predicted to be dealing with Long COVID.
In April, we saw extremely problematic coverage of a study indicating that people who are continuing to mask are doing so out of anxiety, rather than concern about very real risk. The articles on this study ignored and minimized the problems facing high-risk populations, like immunocompromised people and people with pre-existing conditions, and people without good access to testing, vaccines and other forms of COVID healthcare. Unsurprisingly, these articles also failed to mention Long COVID, which may now be the pandemic’s greatest and most widespread potential harm for individuals who get infected. Misinformation about vaccines’ ability to prevent Long COVID, and the efficacy of one-way masking was also common in mainstream media articles on the future of the pandemic.
We were grateful, however, for some excellent coverage on post-exertional symptom exacerbation (a common symptom of both Long COVID and ME/CFS), the impact of return-to-work pressure for people with Long COVID, and the historical precedent for Long COVID.