EDITORIAL: Wildfires vs. COVID: A matter of visibility

This week’s editorial.

This week’s editorial.

As I work every day to keep up with the latest developments of our local wildfires, I’d like to take some time to say thank you.

In recent weeks, there have been so many people who have commented on my personal and professional social media who thanked me for keeping everyone posted as wildfire developments occur. It’s humbling and it means so much to me. I consider it a great privilege to look out for everyone in my own very small way; that’s what I feel I am called to do with my professional life. Thank you, Agassiz-Harrison.

When it comes to wildfire, there’s no question about its danger to life and property. An entire island had to be evacuated right in our backyard. Thousands are affected by the wildfire that destroyed most of Lytton, and beyond that, thousands more aren’t sure what’s coming next as firefighters work around the clock to put a stop to the ongoing threat.

Let’s look at COVID. It’s a danger to public health. It’s significantly disrupted economies around the world. It’s a new disease that has killed millions of people in an alarmingly short period of time. It’s shaken our very way of life.

I realize comparing wildfire to COVID is absurd on its face; they’re both dangerous but in very different ways. However, in my experience in newsrooms across the Lower Mainland and parts of the United States, I can assure you methods of coverage are much the same: identify reliable sources, interpret information into digestible forms, advise the public if action is needed and keep everyone posted.

The nagging question in the back of my mind is why is coverage of wildfires taken as truth (barring the lunatic fringe), but the same coverage of COVID brought by the same people using the same methods has brought about more doubt and misinformation than almost any major news event in recent memory?

I think part of this is a question of visibility. It’s easy to put faith in fire coverage because fire is obvious. You can see it, smell it, feel it. Its effects are plain to see. COVID is trickier. It can take days to manifest. Without special equipment and training, it’s hard to see viruses multiply or watch vaccines working within the body. Trickier still are those cases that transmit from people who have not had symptoms themselves

COVID-19 is mostly silent and invisible to the naked eye until tragically it happens to someone you know and love. However, the content surrounding the pandemic, the virus and vaccines is omnipresent and torrential. The curious thing about the information rabbit hole surrounding COVID-19 is there’s a lot of sourceless or dubious misinformation floating around. With fires, not as much. I won’t deny there are a few conspiracy theories surrounding wildfires, but it’s easier to make up information about something that isn’t as tangible until it’s too late to do anything about it.

Everyone readily trusts experts on how to tackle emergency situations when it comes to fire, and rightly so. When it comes to COVID, there’s a small but alarming degree of mistrust when examining expert information on how to end the pandemic, and wrongly so.

A few years ago, my dryer caught on fire. I wouldn’t trust anyone but the fire department to put it out, and they did, quickly. A few years later, I’d developed a bad infection in my intestines. I wouldn’t have trusted anybody but a trained surgical team to see me through, and they did.

To be blunt, the experts know more than you. They know more than me. That’s what qualifies them as experts in their respective fields, and that’s why we need to listen to them when they warn us something needs to be done.

If you find yourself overwhelmed with the constant news cycle, you’re not alone; I am, too, and I’m in the industry. If the constant stream of information is causing your health to decline, mental or physical, please, please take a break. All the content the internet and the news has to offer will be here when you get back; our health is much more finite and should be treated as the precious resource that it is.

Think critically, get vaccinated and stay safe.


@adamEditor18
adam.louis@ ahobserver.com

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