Amidst the fear and chaos that naturally accompanies a global outbreak of a new disease, finding a signal in all of the noise can be difficult. There is So. Much. Information. How do I comb through it all? What do I trust? What sources are reputable? How can I tell if something is a good source? Who do I listen to? These questions are usually difficult to answer, even when we’re not experiencing an outbreak. However, here are some rules, questions, and guidelines to survive by. Fake news and exaggerated headlines are everywhere. Hopefully this helps you navigate this overwhelming environment and gets you to better quality information.
Question headlines and articles. Be critical and discriminating here. There is a lot of exaggeration, fearmongering, and incorrect information floating around. But, there are some basic questions that you can ask about an article that can help you identify if it can be trusted:
- Who is the author? Do they have a background (i.e., education or professional training) in what they are writing about?
- Are they selling something? If so, the source should only be used to jump-start additional research.
- Are they making extraordinary claims? If so, do they have extraordinary evidence? If they have both of those, can you find other sources independent of it that report something similar? Or are there conflicting reports?
- Do they have evidence for claims that are made? Do they cite sources?
- Do you have access to a primary source of information? For example, if someone makes a claim that a famous person said something disparaging about a group of people, is there a video of it? Is there a recording?
Ask the experts. People who are trained in public health generally, and epidemiology, virology, infectious diseases, and medicine especially eat, sleep, and breathe this stuff. Basically, people who are trained in infectious diseases should be your best source of information. It’s their job to be prepared and to help prepare you. Take advantage of what they say and recommendations that they make. Helpful links that provide good examples:
- The World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
- Johns Hopkins University interactive map. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html
- Harvard University blog. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/be-careful-where-you-get-your-news-about-coronavirus-2020020118801
Consult your local public health agency. For us in Colorado, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is our best source of information for what is happening in the state during this outbreak and any other. They have confirmed case counts, where cases came from, and frequently asked questions (FAQs) about COVID-19. They also announce larger scale initiatives for the state. For example, did you know that we have a drive-through testing clinic? You have to have a doctor’s note but you can drive through it. Helpful links to CDPHE concerning COVID-19:
- Coronavirus Colorado. https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/2019-novel-coronavirus
- Fast facts and case counts. https://covid19.colorado.gov/case-data
- COVID-19 testing. https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/covid-19-testing
This is by no means a comprehensive guide, but it should get you started on your way to better quality information. I like to think about this process as searching for a clear channel signal on the radio; you’ll encounter a lot of static noise but recognizing static noise from the true signal is key. Knowing how to think about the information that you see every day helps you to better detect the signal through all the noise.