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Data: Newswhip, The COVID Tracking Project; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Ahead of Thanksgiving travel, new coronavirus cases in the U.S. have never been higher, and online interest in the pandemic has never been lower, according to data from NewsWhip provided to Axios.

Why it matters: The novelty of the virus has long worn off with half a year passed since our lives were upended. But the health risks haven't gone anywhere.

By the numbers: Over the last two weeks, news articles about the pandemic have generated 75 million interactions on social media (likes, comments, shares), according to NewsWhip Data.

  • The last time it was that low over a two-week stretch was in early March.

Between the lines: Online interest in the coronavirus has been associated mostly with how disruptive it's been to people's lives rather than how severe of a risk it posed.

  • Interactions peaked as Americans entered lockdowns and adapted to working and learning from home. It has declined since then, save for an uptick when cases surged in June.
  • Even President Trump getting infected in October only led to a relatively modest bump in interest.

The big picture: Lower interest — not less media coverage — is responsible for the lower engagement.

  • The number of news articles published about coronavirus are comparable to the level of coverage when cases spiked in June and July.
  • The 174 interactions per article last week are the lowest they've ever been during the pandemic.
  • Similarly, mentions of "coronavirus" and "COVID-19" have remained consistently high on cable news over the past eight months, usually averaging between 100 and 200 minutes of monthly coverage on each cable network, with the most coverage coming from CNN, per the Stanford Cable News Analyzer.

Yes, but: The election has been dominating most of the news coverage lately, so COVID coverage has had to compete with that.

Be smart: Sociologists argue that one reason that the public has perhaps become more apathetic towards media coverage about the virus because it's become too redundant and often, alarmist.

  • The media is "overproducing the article of the day" without thinking about what reader value it's creating, said Zeynep Tufekci, a UNC professor and prominent sociologist and writer, on the recent Recode Media podcast.
  • Tufekci cites an example of media outlets covering rare deaths caused by vaccine trials as an example of fear-mongering coverage that forces listeners to tune out.
  • "We end up in an environment in which people don't trust the media as much. You don't just jump on every potential twist when people are freaked out."
  • Her advice to the media moving forward: "Publish less. People are publishing readable stuff but are over-simplifying."

Go deeper

18 hours ago - Health

Obama, Bush and Clinton willing to take coronavirus vaccine in public

Former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 2017. Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Barack Obama said during an interview on SiriusXM airing Thursday he'll take the COVID-19 vaccine and "may end up taking it on TV." Representatives for George W. Bush and Bill Clinton told CNN they'd also be willing to be inoculated in public.

Why it matters: The former presidents are hoping to instill confidence in the vaccines once authorized for use in the U.S. NIAID director Anthony Fauci has said the U.S. could have herd immunity by the end of next summer or fall if enough people get vaccinated.

20 hours ago - Health

WH coronavirus task force: States must "flatten the curve" to sustain health system

A walk-up Covid-19 testing site in San Fernando, California, on Nov. 24, ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

The White House coronavirus task force warned states "the COVID risk to all Americans is at a historic high" and to brace for another surge following Thanksgiving, per a report that emerged Wednesday.

Driving the news: "If you are under 40, you need to assume you became infected during the Thanksgiving period if you gathered beyond your immediate household," said the report, dated Nov. 29, first published by the Center for Public Integrity.

Bipartisan group of lawmakers unveils $908 billion COVID stimulus proposal

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) in the Capitol in 2018. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Tuesday proposed a $908 billion coronavirus stimulus package, in one of the few concrete steps toward COVID relief made by Congress in several months.

Why it matters: Recent data shows that the economic recovery is floundering as coronavirus cases surge and hospitals threaten to be overwhelmed heading into what is likely to be a grim winter.