We all get numb to the COVID-19 numbers

When does reporting the local
numbers of coronavirus cases
move from the front page to
an inside page?
When is the weekly toll of deaths
across the country no longer of interest?
It’s just a number to the
many people who have not
been personally affected.
It’s been more than three
months since we first heard
of a case in Idaho. It’s only
human nature that we think
less about COVID-19 as we
go about our lives. We get
numb to the numbers. We
grow weary of bad news.
I’m reminded of a public
health issue that I was
right in the middle of 20
years ago, when I was one
of three reporters working
for a then-6-day-a-week newspaper in
I didn’t specifically have the health
beat at the newspaper, but we all had to
cover angles of the story.
It started with two, then three, then
five, then seven cases as a mysterious
cluster of childhood leukemia cases appeared
in the community of fewer than
10,000 residents.
The state epidemiologist and many
public health experts visited the town on
numerous occasions. We ran down many
leads, wrote many page 1
stories on the cluster.
The cancer cluster received
widespread coverage
from not only us but
also the Associated Press,
the Reno Gazette-Journal
and other media that came
to town.
There was great uncertainty
about what was causing
the cluster. Was it in
the air, the water, the soil?
Parents with small children
were worried. Some
even moved to neighboring
towns out of fear.
I recall the anger of a local businessman
who came into the newspaper office
one day and unleased a rant.
Quit writing all those _____stories on
the cancer cluster, he fumed. It’s costing
me business.
To her credit, my editor didn’t back
down and we continued the coverage
until there was not much left to write
about. We were the local news source.
We had to try to find the truth.
The cluster was never completely resolved
with a definite scientific or medical
answer. It just kind of faded away.
Many theories were espoused on the
cause and many were debunked.
The COVID-19 pandemic reminds
me of the cluster in some ways. Then as
now, some accuse the media of inflating
numbers and engaging in wholesale
The reality is the virus is out there and
people are getting sick, and in increasing
numbers. It’s still a public health crisis
with worldwide social and economic
impacts that need to be covered.
The media must continue to report the
developments in the public health crisis,
both good and bad. The only way out of
this pandemic is to develop a vaccine
that offers protection to all. That’s the
good news we all want.
Steve Lyon is the editor of the Weiser
Signal American. Contact him at


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18 E. Idaho St.
Weiser, ID 83672
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FAX: (208) 549-1718

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