Can We Please Not Panic Over a So-Called ‘Doomsday Variant’ That Doesn’t Even Exist Yet?

I get that magazines have to sell issues, but this kind of sensationalist fear-mongering doesn't help anyone.

Can We Please Not Panic Over a So-Called ‘Doomsday Variant’ That Doesn’t Even Exist Yet?

In case you missed it, Newsweek published its latest cover story online yesterday—a seemingly terrifying feature whose headline warns of a “Doomsday COVID Variant Worse Than Delta and Lambda” that “May Be Coming, Scientists Say.”

Scared, right? You’d be a fool not to be!

Well, once you move past that headline (which appears on the cover of Newsweek’s print mag as “The Doomsday Variant: COVID keeps mutating into scary new threats. How worried should we be?”) and read the story itself, you realize that this so-called “Doomsday variant” is very much not a thing, at least not yet. Rather, it’s a hypothetical, super-deadly strain of the novel coronavirus that thankfully doesn’t exist beyond the combined imaginations of the article’s author, David H. Freeman, and his editors.

Reading the article, you’ll find that there’s no direct quote from a scientist about such a variant. You’ll also find that the only mention of the word “Doomsday” in the body of the piece comes from Freeman himself as he speculates as to how the pandemic might possibly get worse than it currently is:

It’s too soon to say whether Lambda will turn out to be the next big, bad thing that COVID-19 unleashes on us. But it’s a good time to wonder: Just how destructive can these variants get? Will future variants expand their attack from the lungs to the brain, the heart and other organs? Will they take a page from HIV and trick people into thinking they’ve recovered, only to make them sick later? Is there a Doomsday variant out there that shrugs off vaccines, spreads like wildfire and leaves more of its victims much sicker than anything we’ve yet seen?

Thankfully, as Freeman immediately counters in the following paragraph, “the odds [of such a variant] are not high,” so I wonder why Newsweek’s staff packaged his story as if they were? I mean—OK, I’ll drop the naïve journalist-voice posturing. I know why. Would you have read a story about how “There Is Currently No Doomsday Variant So Please Don’t Panic As If There Is”?


That’s basically the name of this blog post.

Nevertheless! My point is that there’s plenty to freak out about when it comes to the pandemic—lagging vaccination rates in the United States, inaccessible and unaffordable medical care for those dealing with long-term effects of the virus, vaccine scarcity in the rest of the world—but a made-up strain doesn’t have to be one of them.

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