America’s Short Attention Span

It is hard to fathom that a global pandemic is taking a backseat to other news stories.


courtesy of Getty Images

Americans need to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19, despite the lack of sufficient coverage from media outlets.

By Waverly Younts, North Allegheny Senior High School

Just over a year ago, the world began seeing reports from Wuhan, China, about a novel new coronavirus, called COVID-19. At the time, perhaps only the most knowledgeable epidemiologists could have predicted that this would evolve into a pandemic that would wreak havoc in every corner of the globe, resulting in over one million casualties.

As far as the United States is concerned, the number of cases has spiraled out of control and surpassed 23,500,000 as of January 18. Additionally, the coronavirus death toll has surpassed 400,000 and is only expected to grow throughout the next several months.

Despite the fact that two vaccines have already been approved and several others are under consideration, the incoming Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, recently said that she expects “dark weeks ahead,” with a prediction of 500,000 COVID-19 deaths by mid-February. Her statement paints an incredibly bleak and alarming picture.

So why is this not front-page news on every media platform?

Part of the problem has to do with the fact that many government officials chose to downplay the virus in an attempt to not cause panic. As a result, reporters were unable to cover the outbreak without appearing biased. Meanwhile, other countries that are not under such influence, such as Australia, are on their way to opening up and returning to a semi-normal life. They clearly understood the danger and worked together to stop the spread. 

Thanks in large part to social media, we tend to focus on major events for only a brief period of time before moving on to the next crisis.”

Our country has a short attention span and what I like to call “Shiny-Object-Syndrome.” Thanks in large part to social media, we tend to focus on major events for only a brief period of time before moving on to the next crisis. Unfortunately, there have been numerous crises in the past twelve months, which means that we are inclined to put the pandemic to the side at times. 

The front pages of newspapers and tickers on cable news channels are now focused squarely on the new presidential administration, Trump’s claims of election fraud, and the recent breaching of the Capitol. To be fair, these are absolutely crucial events that will surely end up in history books, but why has a disease that continues to kill thousands of Americans each day been pushed to the sidebar? Are we actually growing bored with COVID-19?  

Maybe part of the reason is that we haven’t done a good job of putting a human face to this very human tragedy. Back in March of 2020, news sources covered the stories of the first victims who lost their battle with the illness. However, it now seems that we no longer hear enough about the personal stories of the hundreds of thousands of families who have lost their loved ones due to complications caused by the deadly virus.

As the death count has skyrocketed since last March, we’ve grown de-sensitized. Yet, even though it would be impossible to tell the stories of all of deceased, we must remind ourselves that they were real people. They lived real lives and had real families who loved them. They are not mere numbers. 

Our country came together after 9/11. I just wish we could do the same for COVID-19.”

It might be easier if I put things into perspective. While I was not alive for the 2001 terrorist attacks on 9/11, my mom, grandparents, teachers, and media outlets still speak about the impact that this horrible event had on our country. Of course, that event was extremely significant and this nation will never forget that fateful day. However, just last week, COVID-19 killed an average of 3,239 people per day in the United States, which exceeded the number of deaths in the September 11 attacks.

From what I have learned, our country came together after 9/11. I just wish we could do the same for COVID-19. But it’s hard when the pandemic is playing second fiddle to so much other news. It’s hard to understand why something that is killing so many of us has gotten such little attention from our government. It’s also hard to understand why it also has become white noise to the media.

But the truth is that while it is easy to blame our elected representatives and reporters, we also play a huge role. We can all do our part by washing our hands, wearing a face mask, social distancing, and getting a vaccine once it’s made available to us. We have heard this thousands of times, but we have become lazy. Remember back in March, when our mantra was “we are all in this together?” We need to get back to that place. Because the last thing any of us wants is for the life of one of our loved ones to be an unwritten story. 

This story was originally published on The Uproar on January 21, 2021.