MALCOLM: A sensational approach to COVID numbers only increases public skepticism
There is growing skepticism — frankly, it’s looking more like flat-out mistrust — when it comes to how the public views the way both the media and government talk about COVID-19, and one tragic story out of Alberta shows us why.
Last week Alberta’s top doctor, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, provided her routine update on the COVID situation and noted a terribly sad case of a 14-year-old boy who died with COVID. She stressed that the boy’s complex pre-existing medical conditions “played a significant role” in his death.
Much of the media were quick to sensationalize the story, with several outlets running headlines stating that Alberta had its youngest ever COVID victim while burying the important context that COVID was not the primary cause of death.
The CBC went even further , and included harsh criticism against Hinshaw for noting the context about comorbidities.
“I heard a caveat that there were comorbidities. In my mind, there are no comorbidities that matter in this instance. A 14-year-old is a 14-year-old. And, for the record, if I were to pass away tomorrow I would be listed as a 52-year-old with comorbidities,” he was quoted saying.
The issue of reporting comorbidities is a thorny one indeed. My colleague, Sun oped editor Anthony Furey, last year accurately reported that the majority of COVID deaths in Alberta occurred among patients with multiple pre-existing medical conditions like chronic heart failure and dementia.
His factual reporting was supported by both Alberta and Stats Canada data, but regardless, many cried foul. CBC even ran a headline accusing an MP of “spreading misinformation about COVID deaths in Alberta” simply because she shared Furey’s work.