The coronavirus is real and warrants your attention. The leading American health agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, say the coronavirus could present a significant health issue for the United States, though at the present moment there is only a small risk of that happening.

Without wading into too much of the minutiae, coronaviruses have been around for some time. According to the CDC's website, the seven known strains of coronaviruses are generally a greater threat to animals than to humans: "Coronaviruses are common in many different species of animals, including camels and bats. Rarely, these coronaviruses can evolve and infect humans and then spread between humans. Recent examples of this include SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV."

Health professionals believe the current outbreak began in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China where more than a thousand cases have been confirmed. The virus has gone global and to date, five cases have been confirmed in the United States in California, Arizona, Washington, and Illinois. Seventeen other nations have confirmed cases of coronavirus.

The Brits have decided to suspend some flights from China until the crisis eases. The United States is said to be considering travel restrictions as well.

What is alarming to many is the low level of media coverage the outbreak has received to date in the United States. The national news media is consumed by the impeachment trial and little else. A gentleman who had spent the previous four days traveling through various airports called my program Tuesday to say he had only just heard of the outbreak by tuning in to the show. How is that?

While health officials nationwide are preparing for what may come next with the coronavirus, the national news media needs to step up its game and provide more in-depth coverage and factual information about the outbreak in a calm and sensible way without the usual hype and exploitation. This is the role of media during a potential crisis.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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