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Opinion: Privacy Violations During Coronavirus Panic

By Lauren Elmer

Multiple cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) have been reported in Westchester county in the last two days. In that time, the media has blatantly attacked privacy of those being diagnosed.

The New York Post published an article on March 4th with the name of a man in New Rochelle that is in the hospital and believed to be New York’s first case of person-to-person spread of COVID-19. An image of the man and his wife appears at the beginning of the article along with the ages of his children and the names of the schools they attend.

While it is necessary to report the names of the areas and schools where the coronavirus is being discovered, there needs to be a clearly established line drawn in deciding  which personal details should be reported by the media. The man in New Rochelle should not have photos of himself and his wife plastered across different news sites because of an illness they both contracted.

The hospital he is being treated at should not be named and could potentially be a HIPPA violation on behalf of whoever leaked that information. When his two children return to their schools, they will likely be socially ostracized, particularly his 14-year old daughter. They will wear a target on their backs for an extended period of time due to the over-reporting of news outlets.

In today’s social climate of panic and an exaggerated sense of emergency, it is increasingly difficult to know what should be reported and what should not be. The New York Post violated a family’s right to privacy, while other news outlets were able to report the same story without exposing innocent people to the judgement of the entire world. This merciless move cannot be ignored as New York State officials have predicted that there will be plenty more cases to come.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists' "Code of Ethics," journalists should minimize harm by treating "sources, subjects, colleagues, and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect." The New York Post should edit its article, release a formal apology to this family, and follow the examples of respect set by other news sources.

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