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Debunking 50 COVID-19 myths

  • Debunking 50 COVID-19 myths

    In the internet age, misinformation has become increasingly pervasive as undocumented claims easily spread online. Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter have become breeding grounds for conspiracy theories, while chat rooms (like the now-defunct 8chan) offer echo chambers for unsubstantiated claims from Pizzagate to shape-shifters. Myths and unproven theories seem to peak around significant historical events and tragedies, and the novel coronavirus pandemic is no exception. As quickly as one misconception is debunked, another seems to pop up, like a never-ending game of Whack-A-Mole.

    In late July, for example, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube removed a video from Breitbart in which a group called "America's Frontline Doctors" staged a press conference outside the Supreme Court. The group, including Houston pediatrician and minister Dr. Stella Immanuel, claims that hydroxychloroquine is a cure for COVID-19. This video garnered 20 million views on Facebook alone in a day, and was retweeted by President Trump. Scientific studies have demonstrated that hydroxychloroquine has little effect in treating COVID-19, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ended the drug's authorization for use in treating COVID-19 patients in June.

    Here, Stacker debunks 50 pervasive myths about COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes it, that run the gamut from outlandish medical advice to covert political operations. In the process of untangling the claims, we scoured news articles and public health resources such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the Poynter Coronavirus Facts Alliance, and Medical News Today.

    The trouble with myth, in many cases, is the more spectacular the claim, the more difficult to disprove it. If someone believes veteran scientists, governmental health organizations, or the media are in on a plot, any counter-evidence is chalked up to fake news. In the forthcoming gallery, you’ll learn about the roots of some of the false claims (most often via a social media post that went viral), and how they've been disputed. With respect to the scientific method and investigative journalism practices, in some instances, misinformation is refuted by the sheer lack of supporting evidence.

    Keep reading to learn more about some of the most popular, outlandish, false, and downright dangerous claims that have circulated about COVID-19, treatments, transmission, and social distancing.

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  • Myth #1: There are COVID-19 treatments and cures

    Those with COVID-19 symptoms can seek medical care to treat specific symptoms and offer pain relief. However, the World Health Organization states there are no approved medicines shown to prevent COVID-19 or effectively treat it.

  • Myth #2: There are multiple strains of COVID-19

    Despite rumors of mutated versions, as of May 19 there is in fact just one known strain of COVID-19. A paper released April 30 by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory claimed a new strain of the virus was even more contagious than the first; however, the research has not been formally published or properly vetted by other scientists—nor do the claims match the available evidence so far.

  • Myth #3: Young people aren't susceptible to COVID-19

    While older people face a higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19, young people are also susceptible. The novel coronavirus has now been connected to strokes and blood clots in young adults, according to University of Louisville doctors.

  • Myth #4: Going to someone’s house can count as social distancing

    Gatherings of any size are still considered to be in violation of social-distancing guidelines as outlined by the CDC. No matter whether you convene at a “household, such as a friend’s house, parks, restaurants, shops, or any other place," gathering with people outside of your immediate household does not qualify as social distancing.

  • Myth #5: COVID-19 was created in a lab

    Immunologist Nigel McMillan from the Menzies Health Institute Queensland has echoed a chorus of fellow scientists who say all available evidence suggests COVID-19 is a naturally occurring virus. The source of such rumors apparently originated in a Facebook post claiming the novel coronavirus was made in 2013 in a lab. In fact, that virus was a synthesized version of two influenza viruses.

  • Myth #6: The coronavirus can't be transmitted on surfaces

    Direct contact with someone who has COVID-19 is not necessary for transmission, according to a review published in February 2020 in the Journal of Hospital Infection, which found human coronaviruses can survive up to nine days on certain surfaces. While this is not considered by the CDC to be the main way COVID-19 spreads, it is thought to be possible to contract the virus in this way.

  • Myth #7: If you feel well, you can't spread COVID-19

    Individuals infected with the novel coronavirus may have no symptoms (or subtle symptoms). The first few days of this infection may represent the highest level of viral emission from cells—meaning it’s potentially more contagious during the time a person is asymptomatic.

  • Myth #8: Ebola, swine flu, SARS, and Zika were as bad as COVID-19 and nothing got shut down in US

    Parts of social media have claimed that outbreaks of Ebola, swine flu, SARS and the Zika virus occurred under President Barack Obama and—although the outbreaks were more serious than COVID-19—nothing was shut down in response. The Ebola outbreak did occur from 2014–2016 during Obama’s presidency, but just 11 people in the U.S. were treated. Amidst the swine flu (H1N1), which was also during his presidency in 2009 and 2010, more than 700 schools were closed, and the CDC recommended any childcare locations or schools with confirmed cases shut down for up to two weeks. The SARS epidemic, with 8,000 cases worldwide, came in 2003 before Obama. The Zika virus outbreak took place in 2015 and 2016, but resulted in, respectively, 62 U.S. cases and 10 in territories, and 5,168 cases in states and 36,512 in territories.

  • Myth #9: COVID-19's death toll is lower than the seasonal flu

    Annual flu deaths are estimates produced by the CDC, based on several algorithms and associated mathematical equations that include case numbers, hospitalizations, and surmised unreported deaths. Meanwhile, actual flu deaths that are recorded in the same manner as COVID-19 death counts (via death certificates recorded by the CDC) have varied in recent years between 3,448 and 15,620.

  • Myth #10: COVID-19 is a mutated form of the common cold

    There are many strains of coronaviruses, and a number of those do cause colds. COVID-19, however, is not a mutated form of the common cold. It did not arise from a cold; the widely accepted information on its origins states the coronavirus causing COVID-19 came from an animal host (possibly a bat) and mutated from there in such a way that it infected people.

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