It’s not mysterious. A highly contagious airborne virus has spread around the world for the past four years and continues to infect people as I write. SARS-Cov-2 has killed an excess of 23 million people worldwide and plagued over 65 million people with Long Covid and other associated conditions.
Chronic illness advocates warned us about the danger of viruses at the beginning of the pandemic, stating how past infections led them to develop myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), dysautonomia, mast cell activation syndrome, and many other diseases and conditions. The science of viral infections is extensive and clear: many can cause post-acute sequelae that can spark immediately, while others take years to decades after the acute infection to develop. We know Epstein-Barr virus can lead to Multiple sclerosis (MS), human papillomavirus causes cervical cancer, and of course, that untreated HIV leads to AIDS. It is no surprise that a virus as deadly as SARS-CoV-2 would lead to one of the largest mass-disabling events in modern history.
Yet, as we enter the fifth year of the pandemic, our government, public health agencies, and media continue to downplay or ignore Long Covid, a disease that recent studies have shown to have a quality of life worse than some end-stage cancers. We also know it can be fatal. Many people with Long Covid have described it as a “living death”, a phrase I continue to use after living with a mild to moderate form of the disease for nearly four years. Still, there are no cures, established treatments, financial support, or incoming research funding despite the risk of Long Covid increasing with each COVID-19 infection. Instead, pwLC deal with skepticism, incredible stigma, and harassment.
While there has been profound reporting on Long Covid in some mainstream newsrooms, I’ve found that most journalists fail to understand the complexities of Long Covid. As a journalist, it has been particularly disappointing to watch many of my colleagues spread mis- and disinformation about Long Covid while ignoring mountains of research, other infection-associated illnesses, and the lived experience of patients. Legacy newspapers continually downplay the disease and its severity, stating it lasts for “months or longer” when we know it lasts for years (with concurrent diagnoses that we know can be lifelong and have no cure.) Whether it is their own ableist bias that determines this coverage or something more nefarious, it’s clear that it is now time for a newsroom that exclusively covers Long Covid.
My co-founder Betsy Ladyzhets and I are proud to announce The Sick Times, a new digital newsroom chronicling the Long Covid crisis.
When Betsy reached out to me this summer to ask if I’d be interested in starting a Long Covid newsroom with her, I immediately said yes. Since I got sick, I’ve written about Long Covid from a personal perspective and reported on how it affects wildland firefighters, the shortcomings of Long Covid Clinics, the forgotten “magna carta” of HIV/AIDS activism, and how the NIH censored people with Long Covid on social media. I’ve also reported on how leftists have completely abandoned immunocompromised people and people with disabilities, even though statistics show that the disease is more burdensome in queer and trans communities. Over the past four years, I’ve sent pitches for over a hundred stories about Long Covid and Covid-19 to editors at national and local publications. Most have been completely ignored, others have been rejected without reason. An editor once asked for a more “positive” story on the disease.
Since our initial call, Betsy and I have spent the past few months speaking with advisors including pwLC, pwME, physicians, researchers, and public health experts, as well as journalists like Ed Yong, Julie Rehmeyer, David Tuller, and Sean Strubb, the founder of POZ magazine. The Sick Times will be a high-impact publication that covers the latest research, holds powerful actors accountable, performs deep-dive investigations, and offers a platform for pwLC, researchers, caretakers, physicians, and others to share their ideas and opinions on the Long Covid crisis.
Though we are only a small newsroom, we aspire to do everything in our power to help improve the quality of life of pwLC. We hope to bring on more reporters, have a robust freelance budget, and provide our readers with audio recordings of all of our articles. We strive to be a site without paywalls so all can access our reporting. We can make improvements through accountability reporting, educating the public on the disease, and providing resources for those lost in the darkness of this life-changing disease. We’ve chosen our mascot, the Caladrius, a mythological bird with healing powers that has spanned numerous cultures and time to help guide us.
We are deeply inspired by the fortitude of the Long Covid and associated illness communities and look forward to developing a newsroom that we hope can help improve the quality of all of our lives.
Miles W. Griffis