As Covid Guidance Evolves So Does A Virus Briefing

Jonathan Wolfe, the reporter behind the Coronavirus Briefing, now the Virus Briefing, discusses the newsletter’s shift in focus.

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This month, the Coronavirus Briefing newsletter — an account of pandemic news that began in January 2020 — transitioned to the Virus Briefing. The new weekly newsletter, written by Jonathan Wolfe, a Times reporter, expands the briefing’s mission to include updates and expert insight on the varying diseases and pathogens — such as monkeypox and poliovirus — that are spreading across the globe.

The Coronavirus Briefing has served as a critical source of pandemic news ever since Covid-19 was a mysterious new illness. More than two years later, it remained committed to providing readers with need-to-know updates. But, as the briefing recently reported, Covid is “here to stay,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The briefing is changing to reflect that outlook, with a greater emphasis on living with the virus instead of preventing infection.

In an interview, Mr. Wolfe reflected on more than two years of writing the Coronavirus Briefing and discussed what would change — and what wouldn’t — in the new format. This interview has been edited.

How did years of writing the Coronavirus Briefing shape your reporting?

It gave me a broader understanding of the range of effects that the virus was having on people. Every issue, we would ask readers to send us a note saying how they were coping with the pandemic — I think we have 20,000 at this point. Readers wrote in with stories of losing businesses, or having sick family members, or how the virus was affecting their mental health. I heard a lot of opinions and stories in real time that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It definitely made me understand the full effects of the virus and its damaging effects on all aspects of life.

Will reader engagement continue in the Virus Briefing?

Definitely. We really like to engage with our readers; they always have really smart things to offer, and their stories are super interesting.

Basically, the focus is changing to cover a wider range of pathogens. We’re certainly going to keep an eye on the coronavirus pandemic; that’s probably still going to be our main focus. But of course, we’re going to also watch monkeypox, polio, West Nile — any other pathogens that might arise. We’re also going to do more general health news when it makes sense.

What else has stuck with you about the Coronavirus Briefing?

One thing that I learned was to rely on the expertise of my colleagues here at The New York Times. We work with truly brilliant people who are tremendously generous with their time. The newsletter covered such a broad range of topics, from the actual virus itself, to how the pandemic was affecting the economy, to how schools were responding. Since we were covering a different subject every day, we really relied on our colleagues to get us up to speed and fill us in on what readers need to know.

What new additions will be included in the Virus Briefing?

The new newsletter is going to be a weekly look at the main topic of the week so that readers can catch up. We’re also going to send news updates Monday and Friday, but it’s going to be more of a bigger digest of the week, rather than an immediate send.

It will have a bigger focus on whatever pathogen is making headlines, and we’ll rely on Times experts to help explain what we need to know. We’ll also be looking outside The Times, to experts, for help to fill in the narrative.

Can you say a bit about the shift to the Virus Briefing?

We’re at a moment where Americans are trying very hard to live with the virus. It’s become more a part of our lives. The acute phase where Americans were highly concerned about infection is fading. The government has also shifted its focus on how we should approach the virus.

Now we’re moving to this next phase of the pandemic where we’re seeing the ripple effects on our mental health or on the economy or on kids trying to catch up in school. We’re going to focus on those sorts of effects rather than information about treatment and prevention. But if I’ve learned anything over the last two years, it’s that the coronavirus is always capable of surprising. So we’re prepared for things to change. But in the meantime, the Virus Briefing will be a guide on how to live your best life as we’re experiencing the secondary effects of the pandemic.

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