Be a smart information consumer

by Ted Carter, tcarter@kasb.org

There is a lot of information out there about COVID-19 in general, how it impacts schools, and how schools should respond. And unfortunately, not all of it is accurate or complete. Here are a few tips and suggestions on navigating through all of it.

Information sources

One thing that has become much more important over the past several years is the consideration of where the information is coming from. Social media and the internet in general have made it much easier for anyone with a computer, tablet, or phone to present themselves as a credible news source. In addition, some sources that could be counted on to be impartial in the past may take a partisan political approach to reporting information. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Don’t just read the headlines: Headlines are designed to grab your attention and are therefore going to be as sensational as possible, but they rarely give you a fully accurate picture of the information contained in the article. Read the article before you believe the headline.
  • Seek out the experts: Particularly in relation to the science behind COVID-19, it is much better to go to the source of the information being quoted by the news media. It is worth taking an additional step to go directly to sources like the CDC or WHO rather than just trusting the news media outlet’s interpretation of this information.
  • Check multiple sources: When you do read an article that contains information you suspect might not be complete or completely accurate, it is always a good idea to look for articles from other news sources to see if they are saying the same thing.

Reliable sources

Here are a few information sources that generally provide reliable information related to COVID-19 and/or how schools can respond to it:

Data trends

One of the things we hear a lot about currently is the rate of infection, the number of cases in the country, state, county, city, etc. Different sources are painting very different pictures about how severe the issue is and where areas stand in comparison to others. It is easy to get lost quickly. Here are few things to consider:

  • Look for percentages or ratios instead of raw numbers: The news has been spending a lot of time talking about the totally number of cases, deaths, etc. and comparing different areas based on these raw numbers. The problem is that these comparisons don’t take into consideration the total number of people in the areas. Look for information sources that provide percentages or ratios such as “X out of 100 people” instead.
  • Consider the source of increases: As the U.S. and areas within it see increases in the number of cases, deaths, etc. it is important to remember there are two things that could be leading to these increases. The first is an actual increase in the number of people infected or who have died from the disease, and the second is an increase in the accuracy of the measurement. Because tests have been less readily available here than in other countries, our numbers have appeared much lower, but now that tests are becoming more available our numbers are increasing more rapidly, and this increase is not a pure indication of how fast the virus is spreading.
  • Look for meaningful comparisons: Any trend data can be easily manipulated to appear more or less severe using cleverly designed graphs or by any number of other means. It is important to try to put what you are seeing in some kind of context. Seek out sources that provide comparisons with other pandemics and other trends so that you have a frame of reference.

Pace Yourself

The final piece of advice I want to offer is this: pace yourself. It is easy to become completely fixated on the coronavirus. All of our normal sources of information are inundated with stories about COVID-19. Yes, it is important to stay informed and to be aware of what is going on. But it is also important to remain positive and to protect your mental and emotional health. Determine how much information you need in order to feel aware and prepared, and then make sure you are taking time away from it and focusing on the other important things in your life. Our families, our schools, and our communities need us to be healthy in every sense of the word if we are going to get through this together.

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