Despite President Donald Trump’s claim that 99% of coronavirus cases are “totally harmless,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has acknowledged that even among those patients who are never hospitalized, one-third will suffer with long-term illnesses.
But that outcome (dubbed “long COVID” by some) will be surprising to anyone who gets their information from Fox News. The president’s favorite TV channel has aggressively presented the virus as only a mild one — posing no significant threat outside of select “vulnerable” populations such as the elderly — and claimed it won’t present a public health danger in such areas as school and business reopenings.
This kind of continued misinformation campaign as American society grapples with how to contain the virus and reopen safely. Such narratives have the potential to keep making the situation worse — even as so many other countries continue to respond better than the U.S.
“Long COVID” and other serious conditions associated with coronavirus
The CDC reported that up to one-third of patients who have not been hospitalized have also suffered from ongoing symptoms that continue for months after their initial infection. As an example of this phenomenon, a woman in Utah began experiencing symptoms in March and now has such varied problems as “shortness of breath … arthritic pain, lung clots, vascular issues, internal tremors or buzzing, electrical zaps, sleep deprivation, phantom smells, nausea, loss of appetite and body aches.”
Health authorities in Europe are also grappling with the long-term effects of COVID-19 among those who were hospitalized for only a brief period. Dr. Piero Clavario in Genoa, Italy, described the problem: “What surprises me the most is that even the patients that have not spent any time in the ICU are extremely feeble: there is no evidence of a cardiological or pulmonary problem, but they are not even able to walk up a flight of stairs.”
Research indicates the virus can also trigger other negative health events in younger and seemingly healthy patients, such as strokes, lung scarring, heart damage, or even the onset of diabetes and possible long-term damage to male fertility.
What is “long COVID”?
- “‘Long covid’ is a term being used to describe illness in people who have either recovered from covid-19 but are still report[ing] lasting effects of the infection or have had the usual symptoms for far longer than would be expected.” Most evidence and discussion of this is currently anecdotal, but research is underway. [The BMJ, 7/14/20]
- From just one patient on day 133 of symptoms: “cough, chronic fatigue, memory issues, vision impairment, chest heaviness, drastic heart rate and oxygen changes, sore throat, hair loss, heart palpitations, reflux, nausea, dizziness, vertigo, rapid hot flashes, joint paint, full-body itchiness, tremors, mild fever, dry mouth, excessive thirst, overheating with no fever, rash, sleep apnea, chest pain and tinnitus.” [USA Today, 7/27/20]
- Some long COVID sufferers exhibit symptoms, even though standard medical exams can show nothing wrong with them. Describing an English patient with a cough, breathlessness, and fatigue: “Eventually, three weeks in, her physician sent her to the emergency department because she was struggling to breathe — but a chest X-ray detected nothing and there were no infection markers, she said. It was week eight before she had her first day without coughing.” (This patient says she had no preexisting conditions.) [CNN, 7/19/20]
- “In one study from China, more than a third of 214 people hospitalized with confirmed Covid-19 had neurological symptoms, including dizziness, headaches, impaired consciousness, vision, taste/smell impairment, and nerve pain while they were ill. These symptoms were more common in patients with severe cases, where the incidence increased to 46.5 percent. Another study in France found neurologic features in 58 of 64 critically ill Covid-19 patients.” [Vox, 6/12/20]
- Rehabilitation centers are popping up across Europe to treat patients reporting these symptoms. “These will likely need to be wide-ranging, since research now indicates that coronavirus is a multi-system disease that can damage not only the lungs, but the kidneys, liver, heart, brain and nervous system, skin and gastrointestinal tract.” Physical therapy seems to help most people overcome their chronic fatigue. [CNN, 7/19/20]
- COVID-19 has been linked to multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C): “a condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs.” The cause of MIS-C is unknown, but many children with MIS-C either had the coronavirus or had been around someone with it. “MIS-C can be serious, even deadly, but most children who were diagnosed with this condition have gotten better with medical care.” [CDC, 5/20/20]
- “There is concern that children meeting current diagnostic criteria for MIS-C are the ‘tip of the iceberg,’ and a bigger problem may be lurking below the waterline.” [Stat News, 6/29/20]
Here is just one story from a New Yorker who began suffering COVID-19 symptoms in March “and never got better”:
Fox's coverage ignores the long-term dangers of coronavirus while pushing for reopenings
Despite the continued dangers that can linger long after initial coronavirus infection, Fox News hosts and frequent guests have ignored or downplayed these long-term impacts of the disease and resorted to a number of specious, often overlapping arguments. They are insisting that most people will be fine; arguing that it is safe to reopen schools en masse; and claiming that only the elderly and other targeted “vulnerable” populations need to be isolated, while the rest of society can resume normal activities. Also, this discussion of just protecting the “vulnerable” often betrays a callous attitude toward those very populations.
Fox hosts say most people will be fine
- Fox News host Steve Hilton: “Right from the start, we told you the truth about this virus — that most people have nothing to fear. That the right response is to protect the vulnerable, that the mass shutdowns were a massive mistake.” [Fox News, The Next Revolution with Steve Hilton, 8/2/20]
- On Justice with Judge Jeanine, guest Dr. Robert Hariri claimed: “COVID-19 doesn't have very serious consequences in the majority of people who are exposed and infected. In fact, some estimates are that 95% of people who are infected with COVID-19 have either mild symptoms or minimal symptoms, and they recover without any long-term problems.” [Fox News, Justice with Judge Jeanine, 7/25/20]
- Discussing shutdowns of public sporting events in response to the pandemic, Fox “news”-side anchor Martha MacCallum said, “You know, you talk about the risk, I mean, there is risk in everything in life, right?” MacCallum added, “I mean, I'm just shaking my head. It's like, you know, you look at it and you look at the risk to young people as you say and it is very minimal. So, is this, is it because we are such a litigious society, is everyone afraid of getting sued? I mean, what's going on?” [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 7/15/20]
- Fox prime-time host Laura Ingraham: “Well, yes, people get sick, some will tragically die, especially those who are vulnerable. ... But thankfully, the overwhelming majority of people will tolerate this virus, and some have adaptive or innate immunity, and thus they won't even get sick or sometimes even test positive when they're exposed.” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 7/7/20]
- Fox prime-time host Tucker Carlson: “So for children, the risks of staying locked at home are high. The risks from the coronavirus, by contrast, are not high. The virus is deadly to the very old and to those who are already sick, we know that. But to children and the vast majority of young and middle-aged adults -- and the vast majority of teachers -- it poses virtually zero threat.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 7/7/20]
Fox shows argue the schools will be safe
- After Facebook and Twitter removed a Trump campaign video of him on Fox & Friends making false statements about the pandemic, the show itself then castigated the two companies, referring sarcastically to “those great doctors in Silicon Valley,” and replayed the video clip of Trump saying on the show that children are “almost immune from this disease.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/6/20]
- Fox News contributor Marc Thiessen dismissed the risks to children as “completely anti-science,” arguing: “Schools are absolutely essential and they are not at higher risk. In fact, they are probably arguably at less risk than almost any other profession of transmitting the disease.” [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 8/4/20]
- Responding on The Story with Martha MacCallum to earlier claims he had downplayed the risk of COVID-19 infection to children, Hoover Institution senior fellow Dr. Scott Atlas argued, “I didn't say there is no risk. I said that there is no significant risk. And I never said children don't get the infection. I said they're not sick — they have no risk for a serious illness, and they're not significant spreaders.” [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 8/3/20]
- On The Ingraham Angle, Atlas had declared, “In fact, the children are not at risk at all, and we absolutely must open the schools." [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 7/23/2020]
- Discussing the push to reopen schools, Fox medical contributor Dr. Marty Makary said: “Remember, also, we’ve got to be selective. Kids are very low-risk of getting serious health complications. There's only 14 deaths among children — albeit tragic — from COVID. That's less than pneumonia, that's less than flu in the same age group. What we need to do is identify those vulnerable at schools, and have a selective strategy rather than these harsh strategies that have their own health consequences.” [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 7/17/2020]
Fox shows argue we have to isolate only the old and “vulnerable”
- Appearing on The Five, MacCallum claimed: “Close to 50% of the 142,000 people we’ve lost in this country are in nursing homes, are in long-term care facilities. … What we should have done was surge resources of masks and PPEs to these places. Spread these individuals out. They are older. They have a lot of comorbidity. But the fact of the matter is that they did not all have to die. And that has driven these numbers up.” Co-host Jesse Watters agreed, saying, “We've learned about the vulnerable populations. We're learning a lot and tailoring it to attack this virus. Let's just stay with the science.” [Fox News, The Five, 7/24/2020]
- On The Ingraham Angle, Atlas claimed to be “cautiously optimistic” about the response to the pandemic, in part because “we have younger patients, lower risk, getting almost all the cases — not the high-risk people.” He added: “By the way, you don't eradicate a virus by locking down. I mean, that's just a complete misconception. We know with socializing, we're going to get more cases. We need to protect the vulnerable, double down on that.” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 7/23/2020]
- The Story with Martha MacCallum hosted “COVID contrarian” Alex Berenson, who argued that “most of those deaths, if you look at who is dying, occur in people who probably would have died by the year-end anyway.” He continued: “I'm not saying that 300,000 deaths is anything to take lightly. … I'm not saying it doesn't mean we shouldn't stand up to hospitals and the nursing homes. But even if we get there, we have to think about the harm that lockdowns do economically, societally, socially, educationally.” [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 7/22/2020]
- On July 13, Ingraham argued for “no more lockdowns,” declaring: “Viruses are a fact of life, and it's very sad, and sometimes, as with COVID-19, there will be awful tragic results. We need to keep the most vulnerable safe. We need to try to find treatments. But trampling on our basic rights and wrecking businesses, ruining livelihoods, and bankrupting our country is simply no longer an option.” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 7/13/20]