2021 Science Reporting – Large Outlet - Gold

The judges praised the El País entry for examining the risks of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 at a time when understanding of the aerosol spread of the disease was still developing. The virus is most contagious in poorly ventilated indoor spaces, the story said, and the danger can be reduced by applying all available measures to inhibit infection via aerosols. The story provided a detailed overview of the likelihood of infection in three everyday scenarios―aerosol spread at a social gathering in a living room; in a bar with reduced capacity; and in a school classroom with 24 students. The calculations for the three different scenarios were based on studies of how aerosol transmission occurs, using real outbreaks that have been analyzed in detail. The article quickly became the most-viewed content in El País history, with more than 12 million readers in its original Spanish version, and more than seven million in English. “The story had a huge impact,” said judge Laura Helmuth, editor in chief of Scientific American. “It circulated on social media faster and more infectiously than SARS-CoV-2 in a stuffy classroom. People who were too confused or scared or angry to comprehend other stories saw this one and … got it. It’s one of the most effective pieces of journalism I’ve ever seen.” Zafra said he and Salas undertook the project as it became clear that “after more than six months of pandemic, hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of infected, there were still doubts about the main way of transmission of the disease.” Aware that warnings about the aerosol transmission of the virus were not widely appreciated, Zafra said, “We decided to make a great didactic, visual and public service effort to try to reach as many people as possible.”