We're all struggling with coronavirus information overload. There is a constant influx of rapidly changing (and sometimes conflicting) news being delivered to us from the federal government, local governments, health officials, social media, and the press. In this tense and uncertain time, it’s hard to know who to trust. I spoke to young people from all over the country about why they can’t trust the information they’re getting about coronavirus.
“You turn on your TV and it’s coronavirus, you scroll through social media and it’s there, too,” Lupita Jimenez, a 20-year-old student in Queens, New York, tells Mic. “That’s scary for people because it makes it seem like if you step outside your house you could get infected. It’s overwhelming.” But the constant stream of messaging isn’t consistent, she says, and it makes her feel doubtful about what was happening at first. It wasn’t until more drastic actions were being taken instead of theorized about — such as Jiminez’s college campus being shut down — that she started to see the severity of the situation.
“There appears to be a disconnect between communication from the medical field and that of the government.”
Part of the problem is that Jimenez and many of her peers don’t necessarily believe the information that the current administration is disseminating about the pandemic, because of its missteps as the virus began to spread. “We never know what’s true with Trump. He’s pretty racist and not trustworthy, and it seems like the federal government always keeps information from us.” She feels that many politicians lack accountability and that immunity allows them to act in their own best interest, not that of their constituents.
“My confidence in the U.S. president is not high, as he has seemed to be more concerned with looking like his administration has things under control as opposed to delivering factual information,” Donney Rose, a teacher in Baton Rouge, Louisiana tells Mic. “It is also based on his use of non-specific terms like ‘tremendous’ and ‘very’ and ‘many people.’ He also agrees with Jiminez’s assertion about inconsistency: “There appears to be a disconnect between communication from the medical field and that of the government.”
Rose also says that he has more faith in his local government because “they appear to be directly communicating findings they are receiving from the CDC.” Rose says that the sources he trusts most right now are the CDC and verified medical experts, and for that reason, he is practicing social distancing.
She feels that many politicians lack accountability and that immunity allows them to act in their own best interest, not that of their constituents.
Edeline Wrigh, a 28-year-old barista in Indiana agrees that the CDC is the best source of information. She does trust some branches of government more than others, but interestingly, what she is paying most attention to is the response by other nation’s governments. “What other countries are doing and what’s played out for them in contrast with what our government is doing gives us a lot of information,” she says.
Matthew Lee Martin, a 36-year-old crew member for Mountain Artist Democracy, a grassroots democratic action cooperative in rural West Virginia (and, I should mention, my cousin), says that he doesn’t trust any of the information being disseminated by the government. “In terms of local government, the constant lack of testing and the assurances that we have no cases here are suspicious,” he says. When I interviewed Martin, there was indeed no detected cases in West Virginia. As of today, they have two cases. “We are surrounded on all sides by states with infected people, and to say that we don't have any is naive at best, and malicious at worst.”
Martin describes himself as one of America’s hidden homeless, meaning that he has no housing but does not access public services and so is not “officially” counted when we tabulate homeless populations. Despite the failures Martin sees in Trump’s handling of coronavirus, he says he feels safe. “My club — the Mountain Artist Democracy — is managing this by helping each other and reporting on where to find supplies and fill basic needs.”
“The response from the president, frankly, is baffling,” says Melissa Breedlove, a paralegal in New Orleans — where cases have increased rapidly in the past few days due to more testing available. “I literally cannot follow what he is trying to tell us. I have to wait until the newscaster translates his statements.” Breedlove jokes that this is very on-brand, and continues that she has more trust in local governments, but that she’s frustrated with the lack of data the state is providing. “They’re all talking about the number of confirmed cases and deaths, but the numbers are inherently flawed because there’s an enormous shortage of tests, so it seems like we’re making decisions based on these numbers and the numbers are wrong.”
Breedlove says that she knows multiple people who have all the symptoms of COVID-19 and have been turned down when they requested testing from healthcare providers. It’s partially because they can’t waste limited tests on people who don’t have symptoms that clearly indicate the presence of the virus, but Breedlove says they’re also being refused tests because they are not over 65. “What I surmise is that only people who are at risk of dying are being giving test,” Breedlove says. “I’m in the camp that says it’s much worse than they’re reporting,” she says, “So I’m social distancing.”
Despite the conflicting information people are getting, everyone I spoke with said that they are trying to be as responsible as possible, not congregating and self-isolating. That means different things to different people, of course. Rose is staying home. Breedlove is only going to work. Martin is only going to help out at his club. Wrigh still has to go to work by public transportation, but it’s empty, she says, “so there’s no chance of touching anyone.” Jimenez tells me that she loves nature and is still going to the park, but that she is being very careful. “I live with my parents,” she says. “I don’t want them to get sick.”