ABC News’ Jennifer Ashton On Why The Coronavirus Is Not Media Hype, Why Time Is Of The Essence, And Why She Avoids The Word “Panic”

As ABC News Nightline went to a single-issue format this week, focused on the unfolding coronavirus crisis, one of its contributors is the network’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Jennifer Ashton, answering questions and sifting through myth and fact.

It’s not necessarily an easy task, as the message to the public has been muddled in parts of the media and at the highest levels of government. It’s also a rapidly moving, complicated story, one that demands context and perspective.

“This is a story where it’s really important to explain to people that this can be a low risk to you as an individual, but as a higher risk to a population,” Ashton said. “And those things are not contradictory to each other, but they can be hard to communicate and explain, and I think we have seen that happen a lot.”

Deadline spoke to Ashton, who appears throughout ABC News programming, about the challenges of covering the coronavirus and trying to keep a balance between complacency and concern.

DEADLINE: One of the bigger recent developments is the what happened in New Rochelle, New York, where the state is establishing a containment area. Did that surprise you?

ASHTON: I think it has been sub-optimal across both political parties, to be honest with you. Now with this being said, I really try to stay in my lane, which is a medical lane. So just as I wouldn’t comment really on politics, I don’t think that politicians should comment on medicine. I think they should let doctors comment on medical crises. And I think that sometimes that hasn’t happened, whether it’s on a very local level or whether it’s on a bigger level.

The other thing is that communicating uncertainty and risk is something that even many doctors don’t do well. So when you have politicians or public officials doing it, I think the risks are pretty high that it can be mishandled even with the best of intentions. This is a story where it’s really important to explain to people that this can be a low risk to you as an individual, but as a higher risk to a population. And those things are not contradictory to each other, but they can be hard to communicate and explain, and I think we have seen that happen a lot.

DEADLINE: What is the question that you are asked most frequently, and has that changed throughout this crisis?

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