The media guidelines announced by Severino in May reinforced HIPAA’s restrictions and warned hospitals that violations could bring fines in the millions of dollars. The announcement was not reported by general-interest publications, but news outlets for the health care industry noticed what had happened. The headline of one of those industry stories was blunt: “Patient Privacy Prevails Over Covid-19 Media Coverage.”
Severino’s guidance, little known outside the health care industry, may help solve one of the mysteries of the pandemic: Why have Americans seen relatively little imagery of people suffering from Covid-19? While there is a long-running debate over the influence of disturbing images of death and dying — whether they actually move public opinion — the relative paucity of videos and photographs of the pandemic’s victims might help explain why Covid-19 skepticism has thrived as the death toll in America reaches the level of a 9/11 every day.
“For society to respond in ways commensurate with the importance of this pandemic, we have to see it,” wrote art historian Sarah Elizabeth Lewis. “For us to be transformed by it, it has to penetrate our hearts as well as our minds. Images force us to contend with the unspeakable. They help humanize clinical statistics, to make them comprehensible.”