Coronavirus Misinformation Is Its Own Deadly Condition

“You know, the other day we had a bright, sunny day as we do today in New York, after many days of gloomy darkness and cold. And I went outside to get some milk and saw the streets were full of people. And they were all young people who’d somehow gotten the message that this is only dangerous for old people.”

Laurie Garrett, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author the 1995 book The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance. She’s been on the pandemic beat for decades. She was interviewed recently on the new Sustain What? Webcast launched last month by longtime journalist Andrew Revkin. He now runs an initiative on communication and sustainability at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

“The misinformation that’s come out is just incredible. And a lot of politicians are the major vehicles of this misinformation. They’ve somehow gotten the word that young people can’t get sick, young people can’t die, they won’t be hospitalized. It’s really not a problem. It’s only old people, like me, that can get sick and die, so what the heck, I’ll go ahead and go out and wander around and go jogging and hang out with my friends in the park for a picnic. And if I get infected, it’s no biggie. Well, it is a biggie! Because you can infect others. You can pass your virus on. You perpetuate the epidemic. And, yes, you can get sick. Forty percent of the seriously ill hospitalized people in New York City right now, which is the epicenter of the entire global pandemic at this moment, 40 percent of them are under 50 years of age. So this notion that it’s just old people: dead wrong. And so the consequences of any statement by any leader that isn’t rooted in solid science—or, if the solid science is uncertain, doesn’t state the uncertainty—is socially irresponsible, is costing lives, is actually killing people.”

The entire Webcast is archived on YouTube, with the title, “The Press and the Pandemic: Tips from Pulitzer Winner Laurie Garrett.”

—Steve Mirsky

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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