October 15, 2020

It’s often challenging to find new ways to engage readers in a continuing story like the coronavirus pandemic. But it’s important to remember the story keeps evolving even though there may be no crisis of the day.

For instance, it’s been clear for months that Black and Hispanic residents are disproportionately impacted by the virus. But the data on COVID-19 cases and deaths is getting more complete, and the extent of that impact is getting clearer.

It’s also obvious that many minority-owned businesses are struggling, and thousands have closed permanently. But business owners are adapting in new ways, and local communities are finding more ways to reach out and help.

Here are six examples where news organizations have adapted their coverage to changing situations, updated their analyses, or taken fresh looks at familiar situations to provide readers with new insights about how the pandemic is reshaping families, communities and institutions.

The Boston Globe: Is death the great equalizer?

Months before the coronavirus pandemic hit with full force, The Boston Globe’s investigative team, Spotlight, embarked on an exhaustive look at where and how people die. The inequalities along racial and ethnic lines were clear.

But it smartly adjusted as the pandemic gripped the state, producing a three-part series that both details years of systemic issues and initial decisions that helped trigger the spread of COVID-19 within the facilities. More than 6,000 Massachusetts residents in long-term care facilities have died from COVID-19, one of the highest totals in the nation.

As the Globe summarized, “… the state’s early response to the predictable crisis in the nursing home population was halting, chaotic, and in the end, disastrous, a Globe Spotlight Team review has found. It showed a striking lack of foresight and urgency as the virus, in the critical period between mid-March and early April, infiltrated nursing homes, eventually killing thousands of senior citizens.’’

The Washington Post: Inside a Florida hospital, coronavirus cases wane as strained staff brace for a fall surge

Here’s another way to add detail and context to an ongoing, evolving story when there isn’t a crisis of the day. The Washington Post took readers deep inside Tampa General Hospital after the first surge in cases had passed and before the next one potentially hits. It’s a story rich with detail about how the hospital has adapted, and it illustrates how much focus remains on COVID-19 patients even when new cases and hospitalizations are not at their peak.

The Indianapolis Star: ‘We move the economy’: How Latino-owned businesses are meeting unique challenges

The pandemic’s challenges also are far from over for minority-owned businesses, as they continue to cope and local governments and groups continue to respond. In this piece, The Indianapolis Star focuses on the ongoing struggles of Hispanic-owned businesses and the evolving efforts by local organizations to reach out to them with resources the owners may never have found on their own.

The 19th*: For family caregivers, COVID is a mental health crisis in the making

While much of the media attention has focused on COVID-19 victims and institutions such as hospitals and nursing homes that are caring for them, family members who are the primary caregivers for elderly relatives at home are also under stress. An insightful piece by The 19th* examines the strain placed on the caregivers who are taking extraordinary measures to ensure their relatives are not exposed the virus.

It points out about 42 million Americans, or 16% of all adults, serve as caregivers for relatives 50 or over. These unpaid caregivers are often women who are nearing 50 themselves. The responsibilities can fall particularly hard on Black and Hispanic women who already are more likely to have lost their jobs, less likely to have paid leave if they still have jobs, and have less access to mental health care for themselves.

Vox: Should people of color get access to the Covid-19 vaccine before others?

As research toward developing a vaccine continues, so does the debate about how a vaccine should be distributed and who should be first in line. A provocative story by Vox explores whether Black residents should get the vaccine first, given that they have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as white people.

Among the counter-arguments are a reluctance among some Black residents who say they do not want to be guinea pigs for a new vaccine — and the historical skepticism of the medical community because of previous experiments on Black Americans. One possible alternative: Using place-based criteria that include indexes that identify the neighborhoods where residents are most vulnerable to the virus.

NPR: As Pandemic Deaths Add Up, Racial Disparities Persist — And In Some Cases Worsen

It’s important to keep following the numbers and to spot potential trends. In late September, NPR followed up on its May analysis and found some of the trend lines have worsened regarding the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black and Hispanic residents.

For example, Black residents are dying at rate of more than 2.5 times higher than white residents in Missouri, Kansas, Wisconsin and Michigan. In May, Hispanic residents were dying at rates higher than their share of the population in seven states. By late September, that number had increased to 19 states and the District of Columbia. Non-Hispanic white residents were dying at rates lower than their share of the population in 36 states.

This is part of a series funded by a grant from the Rita Allen Foundation to report and present stories about the disproportionate impact of the virus on people of color, Americans living in poverty and other vulnerable groups.

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Tim Nickens recently retired as editor of editorials for the Tampa Bay Times and can be reached at tim.nickens@gmail.com.
Tim Nickens

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