How COVID-19 news spreads (it's you)

You're a vector for information, too, you know

Today was our first day of attempting real life in an age of COVID-19. Which meant our first try at home-schooling.

“You’re the best teacher, Daddy!” My 6-year-old is an upbeat kid. (“This is the best March Break ever!” – an actual thing she said last week).

It’s Day 10 of social distancing for us, Day 12 since I’ve been working from home and overall, I’ve been adamantly opposed to the idea of importing our attachment to productivity into our current COVID-19 world.

Out there in the physical world, where an invisible, unknowable virus is sand in the gears of society, I’m just trying to do my part by staying out of the way.

I’m wondering how everyone else is doing and surprised by how much I miss those who were a part of my daily routine.

I caught Justin Trudeau’s press conference on Sunday and saw his special message thanking kids for doing their best to help at home. Nice to see the PM use the age-old tactic of pre-emptively praising children for the way you want them to behave and applying it to all kids in Canada.

There’s probably something in that approach for us too, the grown-ups. I’ve been dismayed by the overall confusion with public health messaging. Somehow, we’re supposed to take conflicting messages about an urgent, developing crisis, and interpret them on our own, each in our own tiny bubbles.

Keep it simple (it works for journalists, it could work for you)

I was so glad to stumble on this Nieman Reports COVID-19 communication checklist for journalists. And while you might not be a professional communicator, the stakes are higher than ever that we all circulate the best, most accurate information.

My friends are intervening in their family Whatsapp chats. I’m calling my mom more and we’re talking about what her sisters’ lives are like, one in Seoul, one in New York. And everyone I know is spending way more time chatting on Instagram and Zoom.  

In other words, we’re all sharing news right now, more than ever. Don’t pass on junk. Give your friends and family the good stuff. If you have someone in your life who doesn’t get it, maybe evidence will help, or speaking with simplicity, using directions like asking them to shop only once a week.

Personally, I feel I’ve consumed everything I can or should at this point in terms of actionable information. Everything else I read on COVID-19 is from a morbid curiosity. The only news I can use, aside from recognizing symptoms, is how I can help plank the curve. Everything else is extra and needs to get sorted out later (yes, an extreme position of privilege, I know!).

Yet, despite the spike in news stories, the message on how to stop the spread is still confusing. So now’s the time to be and act like the news you want to see yourselves.

Drop a chart in your group chat. Does your family talk about celebs? Brush up on Tom and Rita. For sports fans, it’s easy. Talking about Kevin Durant is as good as any story on how contagious COVID-19 is, including those who are pre- or asymptomatic. Talking about any of the above should drive to the same result – it’s all just ammo for the exhortation to stay home and keep your distance.

Perhaps most importantly, this Nieman Reports checklist underscores the value of ongoing relationships based in trust, which need to be in place before a crisis hits. (What I did not like about this story – the horrifying stat that only half of Americans believe news media on COVID-19 coverage). That’s a problem that was already there and it’s a big hurdle for news journalism. But it can be chipped away at via transparency and explaining process and that’s something we can all apply in our lives and relationships. We’re all sharing information right now. We’ve got to do it right.

TLDR

  • keep telling everyone in your life simple messages in plain language like, “Just stay home”

  • for those who don’t get it, use images or celebrities, the ultimate goal is to communicate the same, simple message of keeping a distance

  • good info is paramount and we’re all sources of information now — only share what you know to be true from news sources and public health officials

We are all BBC Dad

My current WFH criteria are 1) I am in a spot in the house that gets decent WiFi and 2) I can close the door. My children do not respect doors. This is going to need to change.

This morning I was in a Zoom conference, recording a one-on-one interview, and my 6-year-old (still upbeat! still 6!) marched in to hug me, putting her face right into my laptop camera, becoming entangled in my earbuds.

“Please.”

[Squeezing hug, huge smile, mugging for the laptop.]

“You need to —”

[Beaming, squeezing.]

“Stop. Go.”

My husband did not do a baseball slide into the room (relive it here) but it was close. I hope you have your own baseball-slide-mom in your life right now and if you do, let’s all give them a giant air kiss tonight. They make our work hours, however interrupted, possible.

On the topic of interrupted work hours, I am happy if I get a few things done per day. I’m not pressuring myself to perform. If you’re a boss in any way, release people from their responsibilities to you. And for the rest of us, release yourself from your own expectations. I ate BBQ nuts and bolts with a spoon today, like cereal. My children exclusively speak like Beastboy from Teen Titans now. Yes, my admin paperwork is very behind. So what?

Thank you, BBC Dad, for having a very public moment of humiliation with having your work and home lives collide. Thank you for reflecting on it a million times over for the long-tail of chat shows on news outlets around the world. You gave us all a head start in collapsing the compartmentalization. We are all you now.

TLDR

  • Surprise! Your colleagues have home lives, too and yes, yours is on display. It’s fine

Just be socially weird, these times call for it

Our doorbell rang this morning. It was our elderly neighbour with his cordless phone and a little knife in hand. He couldn’t quite pry off the back to insert new batteries.

“Ok, I’ll try!” I was slightly alarmed that he just placed the phone in my hand. I’d been talking to him from an awkward distance.

I told him to go back inside his own home because it was cold on the porch. Then I replaced the triple As and found myself spending the next 20 minutes figuring out how to disinfect everything before giving it back.

I sprayed and wiped his phone, a strangely intimate little object in my hand, and wiped it dry. I got a disposable glove, not medical-grade but the kind my mom uses to make kimchi, which was a convenience store impulse-buy.

And then yes, I felt a little silly handing the items back smelling of disinfectant with my one, gloved hand.

But I don’t care. We need new habits right now. And every gesture counts.

TLDR

  • No, you’re not paranoid and nobody cares if you look it. Clean all the things and stay the hell away from anyone with a compromised immune system or elderly folks

Thank you for reading! Please tell me what you think of this brand new newsletter. And stay safe out there.

Hannah