In Reporting Shift, Associated Press Tells Staff to ‘Avoid Emphasizing’ COVID-19 Case Counts

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.
January 14, 2022 Updated: January 14, 2022

The Associated Press (AP), a wire service used by numerous news outlets, told staffers recently to “avoid emphasizing” COVID-19 case counts in stories after the Omicron virus variant began infecting large numbers of vaccinated people.

The AP has written dozens of stories about cases surging in certain areas but has decided to shift its focus due to the rise of the Omicron variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19, and the lack of inclusion in case counts among people who test themselves at home, the service said.

The shift means the wire will produce “no more stories focused solely on a particular country or state setting a one-day record for number of cases, because that claim has become unreliable,” AP reported.

COVID-19 case records have been set across the country and the world in recent days.

Omicron emerged in Africa late last year and has shown a better ability than earlier variants in bypassing the protection bestowed by vaccines as well as the protection from prior infection, also known as natural immunity.

In some areas, vaccinated people make up the bulk of cases or COVID-19 hospitalizations, sparking a shift in change in coverage of the pandemic among some outlets, which had previously printed stories attacking officials in locales where cases were rising.

Other news outlets are also changing the way they report on the virus, the AP reported, including NBC News and the Atlantic.

A recently as late last month, the AP published over a dozen articles about the United States or certain states setting new case records, including a Dec. 31 article about Florida notching the most cases in one day since the pandemic started.

The wire service, which has sparred with Florida officials over its coverage of the state, also released an article citing a Democrat mayor in calling for Gov. Ron DeSantis to enact new restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, even though restrictions have shown little success in slowing the illness down.

“Governor DeSantis has been saying for months that case numbers shouldn’t be the main focus of reporting and can cause undue anxiety. Many cases are mild or even asymptomatic, so it makes more sense to focus on hospitalizations—and the way to prevent hospitalizations is to make early treatment widely accessible. That’s why Governor DeSantis has been working to promote monoclonal antibody treatment and therapies,” Christina Pushaw, press secretary for the Republican, told The Epoch Times in an email.

“With that said, it’s not surprising that the American Pravda (AP) would only decide to make the switch away from reporting ‘record cases’ now that COVID surges are breaking records in New York and California. AP and other corporate media outlets have pushed countless clickbait headlines about ‘record cases’ in Florida. Corporate media is only pivoting now in a last-ditch attempt to protect the baseless narrative that lockdowns and mandates work to slow the spread—in spite of all empirical evidence to the contrary,” she said.

Fewer cases caused by Omicron lead to severe disease and hospitalization, according to studies and real-world data on the new variant. South Africa, where scientists first identified Omicron, has suggested that its emergence signaled the acute phase of the pandemic was over, and researchers in southern California this week published a study that showed a single death among over 52,000 patients believed to be sickened by the strain.

Based on the study and other data, “we are seeing early evidence that Omicron is less severe than Delta and that those infected are less likely to require hospitalization,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters in a recent virtual briefing.

Other aspects of the pandemic are also being treated differently amid the spread of Omicron. Multiple states have started separating COVID-19 hospitalizations where the disease is the reason for admission from other COVID-19 hospitalizations. In some states, about half of the patients were described as incidental.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.