Articles, Blog

The SARS Outbreak

October 23, 2019

When the SARS epidemic hit Toronto, another outbreak followed: a media fever. SARS dominated the news as the “mystery bug” spread. Networks broadcast daily press conferences with doctors, public health officials, and conflicting messages. Newspapers printed as many as 25 articles a day about the disease. They frequently mentioned the disease’s origins in China. Images of Asian populations wearing surgical masks were burned into public consciousness as a symbol of SARS. This flurry of alarming imagery and headlines suggested panic and confusion around the facts of the outbreak. The media’s link between SARS and China stoked fear and discrimination against Toronto’s Asian communities. But those images of masked crowds were taken in Asia, not Canada. The city’s outbreak unfolded for the most part in hospitals, where the elderly, the ill, and health-care workers were most at risk. There were 438 probable cases in Canada, resulting in 44 deaths. The outbreak was contained after a few months. But during these few months, the sheer volume of reporting overwhelmed. The public struggled with information overload. Many no longer read beyond the headlines, which only fed the widespread SARS panic. Facts are important, but so is context. Today, news moves even faster, from an even wider variety of sources. It’s more crucial than ever that we look beyond headlines or clickbait and view the facts, the context, and the full story in a time of crisis and fear. Question what you see, hear, and read. Think critically about the messages fighting for your attention.


  • Reply Jon Booth October 23, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    The media always make it worse than the truth about most reports .
    I believe maybe half what I see and even less than I read .

  • Reply Jeff Davis October 23, 2019 at 3:57 pm

    Interesting new tack from Historica. Long way from Molly Johnson!

  • Reply GamerGuy249 October 23, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    This is the adult version of the house hippo PSA.

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