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COVID-19: When the Information Age made things worse

COVID-19: When the Information Age made things worse

A hooded man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017. | REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration

As we all watch the financial market downturn again try to statistically eclipse the 1929 Crash, it seems appropriate to consider once more whether the vaunted Information Age will be a benefit to modern society or its worst enemy.  It’s true that when this particular strain of coronavirus jumped to humans, even with Chinese government irresponsibility, it gained international attention far quicker through our global interconnectivity than previous viral threats and as a result viable containment efforts were deployed quicker, probably saving more lives than in previous pandemics.

But this event is also the perfect storm exposing a massive weakness in our current Information Age dynamic.  When the modern world is faced with an unexpected threat and the path forward is impossible to determine quickly, wisdom is the first victim drowned in a cacophonous sea of contradictions fueled by competing realities.

Proverbs 13:3 tells us: “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” We are unable to trust each other while walking in the dark, because credibility has been sacrificed on the altar of agenda. Ephesians 5:15-16 urges us to: “Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

Consider these emerging facts about the virus that argue for walking together more carefully and trying harder to keep perspective:

  • Yes, there is dangerously little human immunity in weak and older populations against COVID-19, which likely has a mortality rate significantly higher than influenza in older populations, but it has yet to be fatal for anyone under 50 in the U.S. According to the CDC, the average age of a fatal COVID-19 victim in the U.S. is currently 80;
  • Unlike influenza, which cannot be contained, community containment of the virus is a viable option to save lives in weaker populations. This was made abundantly clear last week when virtually all organizations took swift steps to curtail gatherings of 250 people or more (lowered to 50 on Sunday) until vaccine efforts, laboratory and hospital capacity, and testing protocols can catch up to prevention efforts;
  • The debilitating consequences of containing the virus on communities are only temporary, as evidenced by the fact that contagion in China’s Wuhan Provence is on a sharp downward trend and normal activities are resuming at a fast pace.

But no, that’s not how we handled it. Instead, wildly unverified mortality rates were bandied about with no contextual explanations, appropriate containment activities were hyped as panic rather than scientific prudence, and worst of all, politicians and journalists used the crisis as a weapon against their enemies at great cost and damage to the very communities they purport to represent.

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What if during World War II, Nazi and Imperial Japanese propaganda was afforded the same credibility as news reporting on the realities of war? Would FDR or Winston Churchill have been able to hold the trust of their populations on particularly bad days during the course of war? Would the people of the Allied nations have been able to walk in the dark on those bad days and weeks, trusting each other to ride out what they didn’t know yet? And where were journalists during those days? Were they part of the solution or part of the problem?

The looming national election took yet another dramatic turn downward this week when Joe Biden pivoted quickly to make COVID-19 the center of his attack on the Trump administration, despite the fact that Biden is the only candidate vying for the presidency who has actually been corrected by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy for dangerous misstatements during a pandemic, specifically during the swine flu crisis in 2009.

So now the economic damage to working class Americans and minorities, small businesses operating on a shoestring, the travel industry, the sports industry, and other major sectors threatens to outstrip the actual health consequences of this new virus. In gross numbers, weak and vulnerable populations will die from influenza this year at a count exponentially higher than the number of COVID-19 victims, with little or no macroeconomic effect.

Did we use our access to an ocean of information responsibly? Did journalism help as it did during its golden age before the internet? Did biblical wisdom prevail?

Sadly, we think not.

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