As Covid Guidance Evolves, So Does a Virus Briefing

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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.

What to Know About the Monkeypox Virus

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What to Know About the Monkeypox Virus

What is monkeypox? Monkeypox is a virus similar to smallpox, but symptoms are less severe. It was discovered in 1958, after outbreaks occurred in monkeys kept for research. The virus was primarily found in parts of Central and West Africa, but recently it has spread to dozens of countries and infected tens of thousands of people, overwhelmingly men who have sex with men.

What to Know About the Monkeypox Virus

What are the symptoms? People who get sick commonly experience a fever, headache, back and muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, and exhaustion. A few days after getting a fever, most people also develop a rash that starts with flat red marks that become raised and filled with pus. On average, symptoms appear within six to 13 days of exposure, but can take up to three weeks.

What to Know About the Monkeypox Virus

How does it spread? The monkeypox virus can spread from person to person through close physical contact with infectious lesions or pustules, by touching items — like clothing or bedding — that previously touched the rash, or via the respiratory droplets produced by coughing or sneezing. Monkeypox can also be transmitted from mother to fetus via the placenta or through close contact during and after birth.

What to Know About the Monkeypox Virus

I fear I might have monkeypox. What should I do? There is no way to test for monkeypox if you have only flulike symptoms. But if you start to notice red lesions, you should contact an urgent care center or your primary care physician, who can order a monkeypox test. Isolate at home as soon as you develop symptoms, and wear high-quality masks if you must come in contact with others for medical care.

What to Know About the Monkeypox Virus

What is the treatment for monkeypox? If you get sick, the treatment for monkeypox generally involves symptom management. Tecovirimat, a hard-to-obtain antiviral drug also known as TPOXX, occasionally can be used for severe cases. The Jynneos vaccine, which protects against smallpox and monkeypox, can also help reduce symptoms, even if taken after exposure.

What to Know About the Monkeypox Virus

Who can get the vaccine? Jynneos vaccine is most commonly used to prevent monkeypox infections, and consists of two doses given four weeks apart. It has mostly been offered to health care workers and people who have had a confirmed or suspected exposure due to limited supplies, though new doses should become available in the coming months. A few states, including New York, have also made vaccines available among higher-risk populations.

What to Know About the Monkeypox Virus

I live in New York. Can I get the vaccine? Adult men who have sex with men and who have had multiple sexual partners in the past 14 days are eligible for a vaccine in New York City, as well as close contacts of infected people. Eligible people who have conditions that weaken the immune system or who have a history of dermatitis or eczema are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated. People can book an appointment through this website.

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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