Peterson: Fighting coronavirus panic with facts |

Peterson: Fighting coronavirus panic with facts

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While at the doctor’s office Monday, I was given a mask to cover my nose and mouth, then ushered back into an isolation room. After describing my symptoms and detailing my recent travel history (two domestic trips in the last three weeks), I was given a test … that came back positive.

Turns out, I’ve got strep throat.

The culprit? I’m sure I got it from the bioterrorist who lives in my house — my 4-year-old son. My wife got sick, too.

While it felt somewhat surreal to enter a medical office where everyone from the receptionists to the nurses and doctors were wearing protective masks, I found it reassuring.

The doctor said that the isolation room was just a precaution, and then explained, in rigorous detail, why I wasn’t viewed as a coronavirus risk, which I already assumed. I didn’t have a fever or any respiratory issues. The two words I’d use to sum up the experience? Transparent and informative.

Those are the same words I’d use to explain how the Vail Daily is approaching its coverage of coronavirus in Eagle County and Colorado as more cases come to light.

As a local news organization, we don’t take lightly the responsibility to provide readers with the latest information on the virus from county and state officials, as well as helpful facts about symptoms, screening procedures and precautions for you to take.

With every piece of content, we’re trying to answer the questions that readers have and we’re trying to present that information as straightforward as possible, with appropriate context, so that readers can arm themselves with facts.

That said, the only thing spreading faster than COVID-19 around the globe is misinformation about the virus and the sentiment that the media, at large, is overhyping it.

There’s real panic. That’s obvious from emails I’ve gotten from readers and comments on our social media posts, not to mention all the photos on Facebook of people stocking up on toilet paper and bottled water at the Gypsum Costco.

What’s driving that hysteria? For one, telling people not to panic tends to have the opposite effect — especially if you’re not providing resources to help alleviate that anxiety.

Two, there’s real mistrust in institutions in America today, with the media near the top of that list. The Vail Daily may be a small community news organization, but it isn’t immune from that cynicism.  

That was obvious last week when we reported the first local coronavirus case in Eagle County — and some on social media questioned the story. Others have questioned the way stories have been presented as if we’re capitalizing on fears to sell more free newspapers. 

As one reader wrote under a story last week: “Why did the VD print in large font on todays paper “CORONAVIRUS IS HERE”…come on, we need the tourism, don’t scare it away, we know its inevitable the virus will make it here eventually….”

The truth? The headline was the same size as nearly every headline that runs on the front page of the Vail Daily, and it wasn’t in all caps. If we really wanted to incite a panic, we could certainly run headlines in all caps, in red ink no less, with exclamation points. We could craft clickbait headlines online like: “What Eagle County won’t say about the latest coronavirus victim” or do umpteen stories about the raids on Costco with photo galleries.

Would that be true to our “Bringing Communities Together” mission statement? Um, no.

Here’s the thing: The media isn’t some large, monolithic organism with a hive mind like The Borg from the “Star Trek” franchise. And the Vail Daily isn’t even in the same galaxy as national cable news networks with graphics budgets that would dwarf our entire editorial budget.

If you want to be panicked about the coronavirus, there’s no shortage of media outlets more than happy to prey on your worst fears. Ditto for getting all of your information from social media, where perspective and facts are in short supply.

But just like washing your hands, and avoiding close contact with strangers to protect yourself from the coronavirus, there’s personal responsibility in how to protect yourself from the spread of bad information.

I’m here to tell you, just like the governor and our local county officials, there’s no reason to panic. The cure for coronavirus anxiety? Arming yourself with accurate, transparent information — and limiting your exposure to social media.

We remain committed as ever, at the Vail Daily, to providing you with the facts to fight your fears and to doing so with reporting that cuts right through any hyperbole. As always, if you’ve got questions, send them my way.

Nate Peterson is the editor of the Vail Daily. Email him at

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