COVID-19 is a very serious problem that should be taken very seriously by individuals, organizations, businesses and governments but there are ways in which the public may get an exaggerated sense of the threat:
1. In general: Once a dominant narrative is formed (in this case: Covid-19 as huge threat) reporting will be more inclined to cover things that fit that narrative & ignore/dismiss things that seem to contradict it: The evidentiary standards for reporting that fits the narrative will be lower than for reporting that contradicts it.
2. Reporting focuses on *expected* problems rather than currently existing problems: Most hospital capacity reporting is about expected problems.
3. Ordinary events are now portrayed as evidence for the threat, eg:
a) Many hospitals run at near capacity in normal times and will routinely be over capacity but now this problem may be attributed to COVID-19.
b) Rare cases (eg of young people suddenly getting violently ill & dying from COVID-19) that in normal times are ignored (such rare deaths also happen with eg the flu and other viruses) now make the front page & are portrayed as more common than they are.
4. A large increase in the number of cases sounds scary but becomes much less so when this is because of an increase in the number of tests rather than an increase in the number of cases.
5. Death rates can seem very high when everybody who died from other causes but also had COVID-19 is counted as a COVID-19 death (to be sure, this problem is not that widespread, but it is what happened in Italy).
6. The extent of the problem is not put into context by comparing it to other problems. So while e.g. 500 COVID-19 deaths may sound very scary, if in that same period 10,000 people died from the flu it may seem less so.
7. Exponential growth rates are assumed to continue at that rate instead of quickly levelling off.
8. An excessive reliance on models that are only as good as their assumptions.
9. Relying on experts whose past pandemic predictions were way off.
10. Governments taking enormously far reaching steps to fight the problem give rise to a “Well, they wouldn’t take such extreme measures if the problem weren’t that extreme” attitude.