The novel coronavirus (COVID-2019) outbreak: Amplification of public health consequences by media exposure

Abstract

The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-2019) has led to a serious outbreak of often severe respiratory disease, which originated in China and has quickly become a global pandemic, with far-reaching consequences that are unprecedented in the modern era. As public health officials seek to contain the virus and mitigate the deleterious effects on worldwide population health, a related threat has emerged: global media exposure to the crisis. We review research suggesting that repeated media exposure to community crisis can lead to increased anxiety, heightened stress responses that can lead to downstream effects on health, and misplaced health-protective and help-seeking behaviors that can overburden health care facilities and tax available resources. We draw from work on previous public health crises (i.e., Ebola and H1N1 outbreaks) and other collective trauma (e.g., terrorist attacks) where media coverage of events had unintended consequences for those at relatively low risk for direct exposure, leading to potentially severe public health repercussions. We conclude with recommendations for individuals, researchers, and public health officials with respect to receiving and providing effective communications during a public health crisis.