Accuracy in Media

CNBC joined in the media’s fear-mongering about the coronavirus (COVID-19) by leaving out information about statistical models and projections, though it did highlight how up to 150 million Americans could contract the virus.

CNBC’s headline read, “Up to 150 million Americans are expected to contract the coronavirus, congressional doctor says.”

Dr. Brian Monahan, the attending physician for Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court, said that he expects between 70 million and 150 million Americans to contract the coronavirus. The comments were made in a closed-door meeting to Senate staff.

However, CNBC omitted a key piece of information: Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said that people should be skeptical of models and predictions.

“We really need to be careful with those kinds of predictions because that’s based on a model, Fauci said. “All models are as good as the assumptions that you put into the model” and that with proper precautions and containment measures, the higher number could be avoided. Fauci pointed to the African Ebola outbreak model, for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projected the Ebola outbreak to affect over one million people. The outbreak’s final number was 300,000 affected patients.

By highlighting the upper end of Monahan’s prediction in its headline, CNBC only helped fan the flames of panic and fear that have swept the country in recent days as has been evidenced by the vast swarms of people buying all the bottled water, toilet paper and hand sanitizer and soap they can which is more representative of preparing for an apocalyptic event rather than fighting the disease itself.

Even though testing is in its early stages there is no indication based on current results that the coronavirus would infect 150 million people–roughly one half the population by the time health officials have it under control, especially when compared to previous viruses and diseases like Ebola, MERS and SARS.

The fact of the matter is that health officials can’t accurately predict how widespread the coronavirus will be but with the measures being taken by states and the federal government to contain the spread of the disease it is more than likely that the number of infections will fall far short of Monahan’s model and that CNBC’s reporting is irresponsible.

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