Editorial: Preventing the spread of panic

From The Leader editorial staff

Leader news staff
news@ptleader.com
Posted 3/11/20

Cover your cough, wash your hands, don’t touch your face. All good advice for preventing the spread of viruses. 

But how do you prevent the escalation of panic that accompanies the …

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Editorial: Preventing the spread of panic

From The Leader editorial staff

Posted

Cover your cough, wash your hands, don’t touch your face. All good advice for preventing the spread of viruses. 

But how do you prevent the escalation of panic that accompanies the evolution of a deadly virus?

Last week, a report of an exposure to coronavirus, COVID-19, at Chimacum Junior/Senior High School was released on the district’s website and Facebook page. It was picked up within hours by other news organizations and reported without confirmation from local health officials and without an explanation of the nature of the exposure and potential danger to the public.  

The next day, Jefferson County Public Health confirmed there was no exposure and no known danger of an outbreak at the school. 

But the damage was already done: A large number of students stayed home from Chimacum Schools March 3.

The Leader has a responsibility to notify and inform the public about issues related to health and safety, but we also have a responsibility to verify information before publishing it, so as not to contribute to disinformation and panic. 

This is why, when presented with reports of an exposure at Chimacum schools, we did not publish the unverified information, but instead contacted the school district and Jefferson County Public Health to get the details of the situation. 

Regardless of how other news organizations or social media outlets operate, we will not succumb to the pressure to break a story first and potentially harm the public with misinformation or sensationalism. 

We see this as our core mission in serving Jefferson County as a weekly print newspaper. Our publishing schedule often precludes our ability to be the first to report information, but we can strive to provide well-sourced facts complete with the proper context.

COVID-19 spreads fast but the fear of the virus is much easier to catch. All a person needs to do is come in close proximity to a rumor. 

As the situation unfolds, The Leader is committed to presenting verified information, rather than rumor-mongering. Anything else would be a disservice to the public we represent.

That isn’t to say we won’t investigate every tip we receive from members of the public, whether it’s from an official source or not. Since the first death from COVID-19 in the U.S. was announced by the state last week, The Leader has been inundated with calls, notes and emails about potential connections, leads or exposures to the virus. We have and will continue to take every tip seriously, and will investigate further to determine whether the tip is rumor or reality. Leader readers with potential news tips should feel free to submit them in person, over the phone or by email.

- The Leader editorial staff: Kirk Boxleitner, Lily Haight and Carmen Jaramillo news@ptleader.com

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