The final two weeks of July showed a surge in confirmed cases of the new coronavirus among Polk County residents, while five reported deaths made July the deadliest month of the pandemic so far for the county.

State officials reported 432 new cases, 15 new hospitalizations and the previously mentioned deaths for Polk County in July as part of the the Georgia Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 daily status report, which is available online at https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-19-daily-status-report.

The increases in confirmed cases have been linked in some part to the increased testing capability and availability as part of the government’s push to try and discover who has been infected.

However, many public health officials, including Dr. Gary Voccio, the health director for the Department of Public Health’s Northwest Health District, consider the virus to have reached community spread, meaning it is difficult to trace exactly how a person becomes infected.

As of Friday’s press deadline, Polk County had a total of 637 confirmed cases of COVID-19, as well as 31 total hospitalizations because of difficulties caused by the virus, and six total deaths.

Most of the Polk County residents who have died as a direct result of being infected by COVID-19 reportedly had previous health problems. The youngest of them was reported last Wednesday when the daily status report listed a 62-year-old woman with no previous history of health problems had died because of the virus.

The day a death is reported by the DPH does not necessarily indicate when the person died as state health officials investigate each death that is considered to be a result of the new coronavirus before making a conclusion on if the virus was the cause of death.

As the world races to find a vaccine and a treatment for COVID-19, there is seemingly no antidote in sight for the burgeoning outbreak of coronavirus conspiracy theories, hoaxes, anti-mask myths and sham cures.

The phenomenon, unfolding largely on social media, escalated this week when President Donald Trump retweeted a false video about an anti-malaria drug being a cure for the virus and it was revealed that Russian intelligence is spreading disinformation about the crisis through English-language websites.

Experts worry the torrent of bad information is dangerously undermining efforts to slow the virus, whose death toll in the U.S. hit 150,000 last Wednesday, by far the highest in the world, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Over a half-million people have died in the rest of the world.

Hard-hit Florida reported 216 deaths, breaking the single-day record it set a day earlier. Texas confirmed 313 additional deaths, pushing its total to 6,190, while South Carolina’s death toll passed 1,500 this week, more than doubling over the past month. In Georgia, hospitalizations have more than doubled since July 1.

“It is a real challenge in terms of trying to get the message to the public about what they can really do to protect themselves and what the facts are behind the problem,” said Michael Osterholm, head of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

He said the fear is that “people are putting themselves in harm’s way because they don’t believe the virus is something they have to deal with.”

Rather than fade away in the face of new evidence, the claims have flourished, fed by mixed messages from officials, transmitted by social media, amplified by leaders like Trump and mutating when confronted with contradictory facts.

“You don’t need masks. There is a cure,” Dr. Stella Immanuel promised in a video that promoted hydroxychloroquine. “You don’t need people to be locked down.”

The truth: Federal regulators last month revoked their authorization of the drug as an emergency treatment amid growing evidence it doesn’t work and can have deadly side effects. Even if it were effective, it wouldn’t negate the need for masks and other measures to contain the outbreak.

None of that stopped Trump, who has repeatedly praised the drug, from retweeting the video. Twitter and Facebook began removing the video Monday for violating policies on COVID-19 misinformation, but it had already been seen more than 20 million times.

Many of the claims in Immanuel’s video are widely disputed by medical experts. She has made even more bizarre pronouncements in the past, saying that cysts, fibroids and some other conditions can be caused by having sex with demons, that McDonald’s and Pokemon promote witchcraft, that alien DNA is used in medical treatments, and that half-human “reptilians” work in the government.

Other baseless theories and hoaxes have alleged that the virus isn’t real or that it’s a bioweapon created by the U.S. or its adversaries. One hoax from the outbreak’s early months claimed new 5G towers were spreading the virus through microwaves. Another popular story held that Microsoft founder Bill Gates plans to use COVID-19 vaccines to implant microchips in all 7 billion people on the planet.

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