The Backstory: Coronavirus facts don't incite panic. Just the opposite. Facts fight fear.
A previous version of this video incorrectly stated how many people the 1918 Spanish influenza killed. USA TODAY
I'm USA TODAY editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll, and this is The Backstory, insights into our biggest stories of the week. If you'd like to get The Backstory in your inbox every week, sign up here.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb was blunt: "We certainly are past containment. We have to think about aggressive steps at mitigation. It's impossible to avoid an epidemic here in the U.S."
The former FDA chief continued during our USA TODAY editorial board meeting Monday: "We do have the potential to limit the scope of the epidemic, but we need to be taking more aggressive steps."
Steps like social distancing, canceling large events, remote work and continual hand washing.
Earlier that morning, President Donald Trump tweeted: "The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation..."
Facts do not inflame. Facts empower. Facts fight fear.
"It’s really important that the communicators are credible, so when those changes happen, people believe them," Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at Johns Hopkins University, told our reporters this week. "The risk of inconsistent messages is that people stop believing what they’re hearing, and that means they may do things that put themselves and others at risk."
We take seriously our mission to bring you the facts, even when — especially when — they're difficult:
Gottlieb, Trump's former chief of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said the government should have done more with academic and private industry labs in the beginning, rather than just rely on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s test kits, to conduct more extensive testing.
“The mistake we made is we took a very linear approach rather than an all-of-the-above approach,” Gottlieb said.
And some labs, we reported Wednesday, have run short on the kits and components needed to confirm the presence of the novel coronavirus.
We won't have the vaccine any time soon.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters: "The whole process is going to take a year, year-and-a-half at least." He said that vaccines will soon be ready for testing, but "I don't want to over-promise."
This outbreak is not "being contained."
It is being "mitigated" in hopes of flattening out a possible spike in cases. "You want to slow the rate of infection here so that you can manage it with the health care system. That's got to be a primary concern right now," Gottlieb told us Monday.
And it's going to get worse.
Fauci told lawmakers Wednesday, “We will see more cases, and things will get worse than they are right now."
How much worse? That will depend, he said, on the ability of the U.S. to “contain the influx of infected people” from other countries and the “ability to contain and mitigate within our own country.”
Our job also is to report firsthand what is going on in affected areas. When residents were being told to stay home in Seattle, reporter Trevor Hughes went straight into the city.
The nation's first case of coronavirus was found Jan. 19 in a man living north of Seattle. He had recently visited family in Wuhan, China. As of Thursday morning, Washington state had 373 cases and 30 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins coronavirus dashboard. Residents were encouraged to work from home and stay away from large events.
"This isn't like a hurricane or a snowstorm – natural disasters that you can watch unfold on radar or as the skies darken," Hughes reported. "Nor is it like a mass shooting, which takes place in a short time and then is conclusively over.
"Instead, it's a slow-moving and largely invisible situation requiring people to put a great deal of trust in their government at a time when trust in government has fallen to near-historic lows."
Hughes was in Seattle March 5-8. "Because I was there over several days, I could see how things could change over time," he said, with things "feeling more serious" with each passing day.
"There's a cluster in New Rochelle." "Broadway is cancelled." "New Jersey had its first death." We get minute-by-minute updates from our reporters across the country.
We have an internal messaging channel where 100 journalists — from Westchester, New York, to Kitsap, Washington — share stories and updates. We've got reporters tracking cruise ships and in the schools, talking to teams and event planners, watching the market and fact checking the officials. We're publishing key information in English and Spanish.
And speed is what makes this so trying.
"This is no different than anything else we cover," says Lee Horwich, managing editor for news. "We always have to evaluate official statements by checking with other experts and sources inside and outside of the government. The speed of this story makes it all that more challenging.
"It changes literally by the hour."
Tuesday night, the story hit close to home. We were notified that about 50 of our journalists were at a conference where another attendee tested "presumptive" positive for the virus.
Like so many others across the country, we took action. In an abundance of caution, those journalists, spread across the country, started working from home. Our offices were cleaned. We gave others the option of working from home as well.
On Thursday, the decision was made that all in our company who could work remotely would do so. We're taking the advice of the professionals who urge Americans to distance themselves from others to help mitigate the outbreak.
"We're living the story while we're covering it, which helps inform our thinking on how we report this," says Jeff Taylor, executive editor for news. "Like most things out there, we are part of the American experience, and we have to cover it, too."
And just like in Seattle, the situation gets more serious with every passing day.
By Wednesday, the president's tone turned more somber, declaring a travel ban from most of Europe and other measures to slow the spread. That afternoon, his Twitter tone changed too, saying: "I am fully prepared to use the full power of the Federal Government to deal with our current challenge of the CoronaVirus!"
Nicole Carroll is the editor-in-chief of USA TODAY. She is a Pulitzer Prize winning editor, Benjamin C. Bradlee "Editor of the Year” and proud mom of three. Comments? Questions? Reach her at EIC@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter here.