Editorial

Viral disinformation is one of the many factors making the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 so serious.

As our local hospitals begin inoculating their frontline workers who are treating over 100 COVID-19 patients, the spread of falsehoods continues online. Medical professionals are pleading for our community to help mitigate the spread of this virus.

Even in a perfect world where everyone had good information, a pandemic would be stressful. Coupling that alongside groups of people seeking to downplay the virus just makes the situation worse.

Here is a look at several falsehoods compiled by The Associated Press regarding COVID-19 that still get a lot of traction online:

FALSE: Masks don’t offer protection from the virus

It’s been proven that masks work.

Mixed messaging early on caused some confusion. Public health officials said we did not need to wear or buy masks early on in March. That was a time when there was a shortage of N95 masks for health workers. They later reversed course, urging the public to wear cloth masks and face coverings outside.

Some social media users, for example, are still circulating a video from March of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, saying people “should not be walking around with masks,” although he has since urged people to cover their faces in public. Versions of that clip have been watched millions of times on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

The use of that outdated information ebbs and flows but has been back in force recently.

Here’s the truth — masks do prevent virus particles from spreading. Last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which continues to advise Americans to wear masks, cited research that suggested masks can protect the wearer as well as other people.

FALSE: COVID-19 is similar to the flu

Despite multiple debunked claims, also parroted by some politicians, COVID-19 has proved to be far deadlier.

Early similarities between the symptoms of COVID-19 and influenza led many to speculate that there was not much difference between the two illnesses.

COVID-19 has been blamed for more than 300,000 American deaths this year, and has killed roughly 1.5 million worldwide. By comparison, the CDC estimates there are 12,000 to 61,000 flu-related deaths annually.

COVID-19 symptoms can be far more serious and persist for months. Health experts have also uncovered a range of bizarre coronavirus symptoms, from brain fog to swollen toes.

Social media posts, purportedly comparing 2020 deaths to data from previous years, have falsely stated that US death rates have not changed in 2020.

In mid-October, the CDC released an analysis of death figures between Jan. 26 and Oct. 3, and revealed there had been an estimated 299,028 excess deaths in 2020 by that time, Reuters reported. Of that figure, the CDC estimated 66% or 198,081 were believed to be due to COVID-19. That number is likely underestimated, the CDC stated.

Other studies back up that contention.

The Journal of the American Medical Association looked at data from between March and July and found US deaths had increased 20% during this period. COVID-19 was attributed to 67% of this excess, Reuters reported.

FALSE: The virus is a ploy to push vaccines, implant microchips

Stepping further from reality, we’ve seen anti-vaccine supporters push conspiracy theories falsely claiming that the virus had been part of a global plan around COVID-19 to microchip billions of people through mass vaccinations.

Skepticism also has grown around the speed of vaccine development. A video viewed nearly 100,000 times on social media, for example, falsely claimed pharmaceutical companies skipped animal trials for the vaccines. In fact, the vaccines were tested on mice and macaques.

Still, according to a survey this month by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, only about half of Americans say they are willing to get the vaccine.

The, often viral, misinformation that has been spread and then casually rattled off by some celebrities and elected officials just makes a bad situation worse. The willful ignorance of those who have worked to undermine efforts to control COVID-19 is reprehensible and foolish.

As Americans, we value our freedom and take a lot of pride in our independence. But looking at this issue like adults, the sacrifices we need to make to get this pandemic under control are minimal.

It’s time we do that.

Thank you for reading.

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