Tips for covering COVID-19 in Fall 2023

As misinformation — and misunderstanding — continues to circulate about COVID-19, journalists remain essential in providing crucial information to communities about the prevalence of the disease, the risks of infection, and how to prevent and treat COVID-19 illness.

Bara Vaida, a health journalist before joining the NPCJI as its director of training, wrote this tip sheet to help reporters find accurate data, vetted subject matter experts, and story ideas for covering COVID-19 this fall and winter.

Where to find national and local data

Finding national, state, and local data has become more challenging since the end of the public health emergency in May 2023, but here are some places to look. (Here’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped collecting data.)

  • CDC COVID-19 Trends Dashboard: national, state, and county weekly data on hospital admissions, emergency room visits, deaths, and test positivity rates. It also has maps for visualization.
  • The CDC National Wastewater Surveillance Network dashboard: SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can be shed through human waste and is an early indicator of COVID-19’s rising presence in a community. BioBot Analytics, which provides data to the CDC, has its own dashboard enabling journalists to drill into county data and includes some data from private customers. 
  • COVID-19 Data Dispatch: This site is written by health, science and data journalist Betsy Ladyzhets and has a wealth of information and resources about the latest on COVID-19 data.
  • COVID Variant Tracking: The CDC publishes this summary of virus variants, highlighting when one has emerged that may bear watching.
  • Remember to report numbers in the context of historical trends: The dashboards showed a steady rise in new hospitalizations throughout August, but they were significantly lower than a year ago. For the week ending Sept. 2, there were 18,871 hospital admissions and 286 deaths, compared to 34,546 hospitalizations and 262 deaths in the same period in 2022. The numbers suggest COVID-19 isn’t causing as severe illness as it was a year ago, but it is still deadly for hundreds of people.

Remind people, especially high-risk individuals, of COVID-19 risks.

Because the virus mutates and immunity wanes over time, the disease remains a threat. 

  • Who is most at risk? This CDC slide deck has the most up-to-date information showing a breakdown on which groups of people are most at risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19 as of mid-2023. The list of high-risk includes people 65 and older, children six months and younger, and those 18 and older with underlying conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and chronic lung diseases.
  • Story idea: Only 43.3 percent of those older than 65 have received an updated vaccine dose, even though they are the most likely to benefit. Why? What are your local nursing homes doing to protect residents this year?
  • Long COVID: This CDC slide shows that in the range of 0.2 percent to 9 percent of people have reported lingering symptoms four weeks after COVID-19 infection. The percentage of those reporting long-COVID has fallen significantly in 2023, especially among those who have been vaccinated. Another recent study of U.S. veterans showed that some people were at higher risk of developing other health conditions after COVID-19 infection and reinfection.
  • Story idea: The medical community is still grappling with their understanding of long COVID, but millions of people are still suffering. Tell their story to keep the spotlight on this topic, and read health journalist Tara Haelle’s ‘Long Covid Connection’ in Medium.

Prevention and treatment information

There is no magic bullet for preventing COVID-19. Vaccines, anti-virals, and, especially when cases are surging, masks can help prevent severe infection. Here are some resources.

Write about vaccine access and health equity. 

This year’s rollout of vaccines is the first since the end of the public health emergency ended, and that means the government is no longer guaranteeing access to the vaccine or to cover the costs. (Doses are expected to cost around $120 to $130). Americans, especially those without access to a regular physician or health insurance, will need help finding vaccines and getting them covered.

Finding vetted and diverse experts

Be careful about picking expert sources. Make sure their expertise aligns with the topic you are writing about. Just because someone is a physician or a scientist doesn’t mean they are an expert in infectious diseases. Here are a few places to find vetted experts:

Click here to download these tips.

Contact: Bara Vaida, Director of Training, [email protected]. Did we miss a resource? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you.

About the National Press Club Journalism Institute

The National Press Club Journalism Institute promotes an engaged global citizenry through an independent and free press, and equips journalists with skills and standards to inform the public in ways that inspire a more representative democracy. As the nonprofit affiliate of the National Press Club, the Institute powers journalism in the public interest.

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