Home Fitness and Health Loneliness and health inequity are post-COVID-19 stories to cover, reporter says

Loneliness and health inequity are post-COVID-19 stories to cover, reporter says

Loneliness and health inequity are post-COVID-19 stories to cover, reporter says

Fran Kritz

Reporter Fran Kritz

During the pandemic, one of the publications I relied on to answer my questions about SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) was NPR’s “Coronavirus FAQs”, which was a cornerstone of the news organization’s pandemic coverage. 

The section answered the latest and most pressing questions from the public as scientists’ and doctors’ understanding about the virus evolved. Freelance journalist Fran Kritz was one of the chief writers of these deeply reported FAQs, writing about topics such as the safety of ordering take-out food in April 2020 or if it was safe to fly without a mask in early 2023.  

Since the World Health Organization announced an end to the pandemic as a global health emergency in May, NPR has slowed its FAQ pace and archived older articles. Reading the archives is like looking through the history of what people were most worried about, and worth looking at if you are a student of medical history. As one way to mark the end of this point of the pandemic, I spoke with Kritz, who reflected on what it was like to cover the pandemic over the past three years and what she thinks journalists should be covering now.

(Responses have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity)

How did you start writing for NPR’s coronavirus FAQ section?

Mark Silver, the editor of Goats and Soda, NPR’s global health blog, called me in January 2020. Mark and I knew each other from working at U.S. News & World Report together and he said, ‘Fran, iTunes says the movie ‘Contagion’ is moving up the charts of its most rented movies. I think people are worried about the virus (in China). Can we compare what happens in ‘Contagion’ (about a pandemic outbreak) with what people know about the virus in China?’ And so that is how I got my first COVID-19 story for NPR and how I came to be writing for the FAQ section.

What were some of your most memorable moments?

It was the doctors who were on the frontlines, putting themselves at risk every day and willing to talk to us. They wanted to get good information out there, so they had to be patient with me, as I moved up the learning curve of COVID.  When they could have been sleeping or resting or taking care of their families, and probably worrying for themselves, so many of them were still willing to take the time to explain the virus. When it came time for people to get vaccines, many of them even went with patients to help them get vaccines because their patients were scared. Their bravery and generosity are what is most memorable to me.

For you, personally, what do you remember?

It was all consuming. Even though I wasn’t going outside at all, I was just working non-stop. Also, I wasn’t able to see my son and daughter-in-law, who live in Israel, and their new baby for a year, and that was really hard.

For journalists interested in media-savvy doctors to talk to, would you share the names of generous doctors that were on your go-to call list during the pandemic? 

What I suggest to reporters is that they reach out to the Infectious Diseases Society of America and their media person Tyler Williams. You can reach Tyler at twilliams@messagepartnerspr.com.

The IDSA did a great job connecting me with infectious disease doctors lickety-split throughout the pandemic. Two other infectious disease doctors I continue to speak with and are good with media are: William Schaffner (professor of infectious diseases, Vanderbilt University Medical Center) and Amesh Adalja (senior scholar, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Health Security).

What are the stories that you think journalists should be focusing on now in terms of the continued ripple effects of the pandemic?

Health inequities. In some ways the pandemic was good for people who were poor, even though that must sound so odd. The New Yorker had a piece called ‘Moving On’ and what it says is that a lot of people got money, food stamps, access to Medicaid, and now that is all going away with the end of the public health emergency. And so, what is going to happen to them? 

And loneliness is another story to write about. I talked to Preeti Malani, the head of infectious diseases at the University of Michigan Medicine, and she is extremely concerned that many people are still afraid of the virus and are still separating themselves from other people. They are lonely and some may be dealing with mental health issues as a result of the pandemic, such as depression. So, I think loneliness and the continued mental health impact of the pandemic [are issues] we will and should be covering for a long time. And then also, this fall, adults are going to have a lot of vaccines to think about, including vaccines for the flu, COVID-19 and RSV. So, stories about what vaccines to get will be important to write about.”


Fran Kritz is a veteran health care reporter who was on the Covid-19 beat for NPR.org and Verywell Health from January 2020 and continuing. She splits her time between the Washington, D.C. suburbs and Jerusalem where she continues to report on ongoing coronavirus research. Kritz is also a contributor to KFF Health News, the Washington Post, the Colorado Trust Newsroom and Everyday Health. 


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