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‘Viral Questions’ series cuts through the COVID confusion

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AP’s medical and science writers Lindsey Tanner, Aniruddha Ghosal and Lauran Neergaard, joined by digital storytelling producer Peter Hamlin, captured the biggest audience yet for AP’s “Viral Questions” series, addressing two questions: one on the delta variant and a second on the potential for long-term symptoms after being vaccinated.

The week’s first piece, “What should I know about the delta variant?,” gave readers the most up-to-date and accurate information the AP could provide to the public about the delta variant and served as boilerplate material for other AP stories. The item was first done by Ghosal in late June as the delta variant was gaining attention, and was recently updated by Neergaard to note that it has become the “most contagious coronavirus mutant so far in the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, Tanner, who has been reporting on “long haulers” since early in the pandemic, looked at a growing question among experts: Could breakthrough infections result in long COVID? Tanner quickly addressed the issue in a manner that was frank without being alarming, just as the topic was gaining traction with the broader public.

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Each piece — as have all of the 117 “Viral Questions” since the series began — has been accompanied by Hamlin’s illustrations. The series is produced weekly — sometimes several times a week — with contributions from reporters around the AP. It serves as a model for engaging harried audiences, cutting through clutter and misinformation by delivering quick, accessible answers to the most pressing coronavirus questions in a language, tone and format that meets readers where they are in their lives.

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