A Pandemic of Misinformation
Updated: Aug 30, 2020
By Janvi Huria, Marquette High School, Chesterfield, MO
Through social distancing and a lot of time spent at home, I have a lot more time for introspection, research, and reading that I don't normally have. I began rereading Stellar Medicine: A Journey Through the Universe of Women's Health written by Dr. Saralyn Mark. So far, it is a great read (I highly recommend it to any interested readers). One of the first topics addressed in this book is the pandemic of misinformation. In this chapter, Dr. Mark addresses some of the public health scares from 9/11 to the anthrax and bird flu scares. The common thread among these scares was the public's misinformation detracting from a tangible solution to the crisis. The example that I found most interesting was about the bird flu. During this time, people started excessively purchasing the antiviral drug Tamiflu which unfairly took away resources from people with the seasonal flu. One of the quotes that I found to resonate most with our modern situation was "this message [that sustained transmission of bird flu was unlikely] was often overlooked. Meanwhile, the country was terrified for a time, and again taxed the medical system needlessly" (Mark 22). This idea that misinformation drives us further away from a solution needs to be carefully analyzed especially now. Many people (myself included) are being driven to take extreme actions based on flawed understandings of the virus. So this article is dedicated to clearing up (to whatever extent and reach I have) this "pandemic of misinformation" regarding COVID-19.
Misconception: COVID-19 does not affect young people.
Truth: This statement is flawed in that the virus' ability to infect people is not dependent on their age rather its mortality is dependent on age. Everyone has seen the mortality statistics that the majority of the deaths due to the coronavirus are in the elderly according to the CDC. This is important because mortality is highest in the elderly, not incidence. This is also troublesome because many younger people can act as carriers by spreading the disease to those who could be more severely affected (like the elderly and the immunocompromised) by being asymptomatic. In essence, young people can still be affected and should take precautions especially to avoid being carriers of the disease.
Misconception: I should avoid Chinese/East-Asian individuals.
Truth: The CDC discusses some of the stigma that has been misguiding people's actions. People and institutions are often taking advantage of this and manifesting it as xenophobia. However, avoiding Chinese people is not only not feasible but playing into these often harmful stereotypes - putting the blame on Chinese individuals is illogical.
Misconception: I should purchase a mask.*
Truth: Purchasing a mask can be an effective way to help prevent the spread of the illness. According to the World Health Organization's guidelines, healthy people do not need to wear masks unless they are living with or working with those that have or are suspected to have COVID-19. Also, people should wear masks if they are coughing or sneezing or obviously if they have the disease. Another similar misconception is that masks alone can prevent the spread of disease; however, the disease can spread through droplets entering the eyes, and the use of masks should also be coupled with good hand washing practices.
Misconception: I should hoard up on water.
Truth: This virus is not waterborne; water supply is not going to be affected because of the virus. Therefore, unless you prefer drinking water from bottles instead of the tap, you should not buy water bottles in excess as I have seen many people do recently.
I tried to include some of the most common misconceptions, but this by no means is a comprehensive list. This is also not an expert opinion, and if you have more questions, feel free to visit the links below. I want to end with this other fascinating quote as simply food for thought, "When we hear about the next new virus or poison or even policy, we need to see what else is going on in the world. Are people deliberately putting messages to distract us from another issue?" (Mark 22).
*Based on WHO guidelines on March 31st, 2020, date of article publication.
Begley, S. (2020, March 19). New analysis of coronavirus risk: Young adults are not invincible. Retrieved from https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/18/coronavirus-new-age-analysis-of-risk-confirms-young-adults-not-invincible/
Devlin, H. (2020, April 11). Can a face mask protect me from coronavirus? Covid-19 myths busted. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/11/can-a-face-mask-protect-me-from-coronavirus-covid-19-myths-busted
Lee, B. Y. (2020, February 05). Coronavirus: Here Are 10 Misconceptions Being Spread. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucelee/2020/02/02/coronavirus-here-are-10-misconceptions-being-spread/#71f511562840
Reducing Stigma. (2020, June 11). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/reducing-stigma.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/reducing-stigma.html
Stefani Sassos, M. (2020, March 31). Being Prepared for the Coronavirus Does Not Mean Stockpiling or Hoarding Supplies. Retrieved from https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/a31261097/what-to-stock-up-on-for-coronavirus/
Severe Outcomes Among Patients with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) - United States, February 12–March 16, 2020. (2020, March 26). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm?s_cid=mm6912e2_w
When and how to use masks. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks