Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious disease expert in the United States, recently called the novel coronavirus his “worst nightmare” because it’s highly contagious and can cause many people to become sick or even die.
Some people may not believe that, because there’s been considerable efforts to downplay Fauci’s warnings — including the president — arguing that COVID-19 is simply a new flu.
Despite other infectious disease experts concurring with Fauci’s assessments, it’s all part of a late-breaking news cycle as scientists grapple to understand the virus. That takes lots of data, which takes some time to collect.
In the meantime, some are choosing to fill the void with their own ideas, many of them being misguided.
More people believe aspects of COVID-19 conspiracy theories than you may think
An online survey of about 2,500 people in England and published in May by Cambridge University Press found that while half of people didn’t engage in “conspiracy thinking” about the coronavirus, about 25 percent either showed a consistent pattern or “very high levels” of endorsing those ideas.
“Such ideas do not appear confined to the fringes,” the researchers from the University of Oxford concluded. “The conspiracy beliefs connect to other forms of mistrust and are associated with less compliance with government guidelines and greater unwillingness to take up future tests and treatment.”
But that’s bound to happen when you mix uncertainty, fear, economic despair, a contentious presidential race, social media trolls, including misinformation campaigns from foreign governments like Russia who seek to sow confusion.
The bad information even comes from top officials like President Trump, who wondered aloud during a coronavirus briefing in April about the potential of using light and disinfectant inside the body to kill the virus. That prompted companies like Clorox and Lysol to remind people not to ingest their products.
President Trump also instructed people to take hydroxychloroquine because, “What do you have to lose?” But soon medical journals like The LancetTrusted Source and the New England Journal of Medicine retracted studies on the drug because it relied on faulty data.
Those are just a handful of some of the most common myths surrounding COVID-19 that play out from the White House. Social media and the doctor’s office are different areas altogether.
Common myths and misinformation about COVID-19
Dr. Mike Sevilla, a practicing family physician in Salem, Ohio, says he fields a lot of questions from his patients — namely those who watch the news every day — and reminds them that, yes, the virus is real, but, no, there still is no vaccine available.
One major myth he deals with is that COVID-19 is just another flu.
“As the pandemic was starting around the world, I had a lot of patients say that COVID-19 should be nothing to worry about because it is just another flu. It is true that the symptoms of COVID-19 and influenza can be similar, with fever, cough, and shortness of breath,” Sevilla said. “But COVID-19 is definitely not just another flu.”
Dr. Moshe Lewis, who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation in the San Francisco Bay Area, says he’s been asked about several conspiracy theories, including its connections to 5G broadband and billionaire Bill Gates.
“Science is complex, and when the public sees it unfold on a grand scale in front of their eyes, confusion ensues,” he said. “Various recommendations were put forth and then retracted, leading to mixed messaging. From these embers, fear, facts, and fiction get spliced into controversy.”
Lewis says as 5G towers went up and COVID-19 hit the United States, many confused correlation and causation, creating a “fertile ground to sow more seeds of concern.”
“The challenge with this approach is that some people have taken this so seriously as to go and burn down cellphone towers without clear and convincing evidence,” he said. “These types of actions can cause a greater danger than the unsubstantiated threat.”
Another area of controversy in the pandemic is the use of masks. First, health officials said there was no need for healthy people to wear them. Then Fauci recommended them, and many cities and counties now have orders that anyone — regardless of symptoms — wear them when out in public. This, too, remains a focus of conspiracists.
One large source of information was the 26-minute video “Plandemic.” It was first posted to social media on May 4, 2020, and — much like COVID-19 — went viral. It featured virologist Judy Mikovits, who has repeatedly been accused of being an anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist.
The video has been pulled off most major social media platforms due to its inaccuracies, but it keeps resurfacing.
Science Magazine’s editorial team fact-checked many of the claims in the video, including that the virus is “activated” by face masks and that Mikovits was jailed for her research regarding HIV. They found those to simply be untrue.
Dr. José Morey works part time on the front lines as a radiologist in eastern Virginia and part time as a technology consultant for NASA, MIT, and other places. He says many of the claims in “Plandemic” are simply untrue.
“Judy Mikovits claims Bill Gates has killed millions with his global vaccination program. There is no evidence of this. This is just nonsense,” he said.
Morey has written about more advanced vaccines for Forbes, and counters Mikovits’ claims that there are no vaccines against ribonucleic acid (RNA) viruses — like the coronavirus — by saying there are several, including rabies, measles, and polio, despite the fact they mutate rapidly, making vaccines to combat them tougher to make.
As to Mikovits’ assertions that COVID-19 deaths are “extremely exaggerated,” Morey says the death toll from COVID-19 is “largely being underestimated, as many countries do not have the capability to perform such wide-scale testing.”
“Even here in the United States, testing has been poor,” he said.
As to the theory that the coronavirus was created in a Chinese laboratory, Morey says studies from many nations all point to a natural source at this time.
“The virus is odd,” he said, “but just because something is peculiar, it doesn’t mean that it is fabricated.”
Morey says part of the problem is the White House has a continuing “disdain for science and the scientific method,” including “a systemic assault on science and facts.”
“This is endemic and we are seeing the ramifications of this underlying pathology. We will ultimately find treatments and interventions for COVID-19, of this I have no doubt,” he said. “However, the disease that ails the White House is deep seated and rooted in ignorance. For this, there is only one cure: vote.”
But until November, others recommend being selective of where people get their information, from social media to popular podcasts.
‘Listen to medically credible individuals who speak from knowledge and experience’
Gail Trauco, RN, an oncology nurse for 42 years turned patient advocate and founder of Medical Bill 911, describes herself as someone with liberal opinions who loves the comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan, who sometimes dabbles in unproven conspiracy theories.
Still, she says, his fans need to “be real” when listening to any kind of medical advice coming from him or others like him.
“Joe Rogan will not be paying any person’s medical bills or funeral expenses related to coronavirus, with the exception of his own family,” she said. “Joe Rogan will not provide testing to any individual, nor the information on how to obtain medical care.”
That means the responsibility of staying safe lands on the individual person.
“Listen to medically credible individuals who speak from knowledge and experience,” she said.
Instead of following ideas and untested therapies from social media and even the White House, Trauco and other knowledgeable professionals suggest simple interventions to keep yourself and others safe from COVID-19: Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Seek medical care if you feel ill, and follow the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Be ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter’ of your own health,” Trauco said. “The ‘bounty’ is your heartbeat.”
Some States Are Learning What Happens to COVID-19 Cases If You Reopen Too Early
If you’re waiting to see when COVID-19 cases might start to increase after states reopen businesses and public facilities, your wait may be over.
On Friday, at least four states reported single-day records for new confirmed COVID-19 cases.
A tracking map done by the Washington Post early this week showed that 14 states recorded their highest seven-day average of new confirmed COVID-19 cases during the first week of June.
In addition, a daily tracking map done by The New York Times reports that 22 states have had rising confirmed COVID-19 cases over the past 14 days.
Eight of those states are in the South, which was the first region to reopen businesses and public places.
The map also shows 21 states with decreasing case numbers over the past 2 weeks and 7 states where cases have plateaued.
A weekly graph done by Reuters shows 21 states with an increase in COVID-19 cases for the week that ended June 7.
The graph indicated there are 10 states that saw confirmed COVID-19 cases rise by more than 30 percent during the first week of June. Among them were the southwestern states of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico.
The report also noted that the number of new infections for the past week had risen by 3 percent nationwide, the first increase after five weeks of decline.
The increase in cases prompted one expert this week to predict that COVID-19 deaths in the United States could hit 200,000 sometime in September.
The steadily rising number has also sparked a debate over whether and how states should reopen.
“Some will say if case numbers are up, why reopen?… But we have to reopen,” Dr. David Rubin, MSCE, director of PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which has been modeling the spread of COVID-19, told Healthline in late May. “The discussion is how well you can contain transmission as you reopen.”
His models predicted a resurgence in several places in the first half of June.
The most troublesome hot spots
Arizona is the state with the highest concerns right now.
Officials have been reporting a surge of cases and hospitalizations that began about 10 days after the governor allowed stay-at-home orders to expire on May 15.
That spike has not subsided.
New confirmed cases of COVID-19 have more than doubled in the past two weeks and hospitals have been advised to prepare for a surge of seriously ill patients.
On Friday, Arizona reported 1,654 new confirmed COVID-19 cases the previous 24 hours. That set a record for cases in a single day.
Alabama is facing similar worries.
On Friday, the state reported 858 new COVID-19 cases, the highest single-day total so far. It broke the record set the day before.
The state’s seven-day average daily toll of new cases surpassed 600, also breaking the record set the day before.
Alabama allowed stores to open at the end of April and other businesses in mid-May. The state has seen a gradual increase since the start of May and recorded a 28 percent jump in weekly cases in late May.
On June 3, the state reported that 30 percent of all of its COVID-19 cases have been recorded in the past two weeks.
In late May, Alabama also reported shortages of beds in its intensive care units (ICUs). In the state capital of Montgomery, hospital emergency rooms are now treating seriously ill COVID-19 patients as ICU beds fill up.
Florida is also heating up.
On Friday, state officials reported 1,900 new confirmed COVID-19 cases.
The officials said part of the reason for the increase is due to increased testing, but they also note the percentage of positive test results has increased to 5 percent.
Last week, state officials said confirmed COVID-19 cases in Florida increased an average of 46 percent per day during the previous week.
South Carolina began reopening retail shops in late April, and restaurants and bars are also open now.
On Thursday, state officials reported 687 new COVID-19 cases. That was the most cases recorded in a single day there.
State officials said 40 percent of South Carolina’s COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed in the past three weeks.
On Friday, officials noted there is increased testing in the state, but they also stated the positive rate has risen to 14 percent.
On June 2, state officials urged people in South Carolina to take precautions because of the rise in cases.
State officials say that Greenville is now a hot spot. They also said 8 percent of COVID-19 tests administered on June 6 came back positive.
Missouri, which started to reopen in early May, has also seen an uptick in cases recently.
On Monday, state officials reported triple-digit increases in daily cases.
On Friday, state officials reported 198 new COVID-19 cases, slightly less than the 200-plus daily cases recorded during most of the week.
Officials also reported last week that there is now one confirmed COVID-19 case among the people who attended a crowded party at the Lake of the Ozarks during the final week of May.
On Thursday, they did note there are no known cases resulting from two St. Louis hair stylists who tested positive for COVID-19 after showing up for work with coronavirus symptoms and exposing as many as 140 people to the virus.
Missouri is listed as one of the 22 states with increasing COVID-19 cases on the New York Times map.
The state has also surpassed 15,000 cases since the pandemic began.
Nonetheless, Missouri is scheduled to lift all statewide restrictions on businesses on Tuesday.
North Carolina allowed stores to open May 8 and restaurants to reopen on May 22. It also reported increases in case numbers in late May.
On June 4, state officials reported 1,189 new cases, the highest daily increase since the pandemic began.
They also reported that the daily average the previous week for new COVID-19 cases was 1,032. That was the first time the average has been above 1,000.
They added that 739 people with COVID-19 had been hospitalized the past 24 hours, breaking the one-day record set the previous Friday.
On Thursday, North Carolina officials reported that their state has exceeded 1,000 new COVID-19 cases in five of the previous seven days.
They noted there were 1,310 new cases reported on Thursday, slightly under the record for daily cases set on Saturday.
The surge prompted state officials to warn that stay-at-home orders and other restrictions may need to be reinstituted.
Tennessee also reported a rising trend in cases in late May. The trend has continued, but on Thursday the governor said the surge was to be “expected” after restrictions were lifted on businesses.
Cases have also been rising in Texas.
On Wednesday, the state recorded a single-day record with 2,504 new cases. State officials some of the increase was due to more accurate counting of cases in prisons.
The Austin area is one of Texas’ hot spots.
On Thursday, city officials announced that stay-at-home orders and mask requirements would likely be extended past the original date of June 15.
There are concerns in Houston, too.
On Thursday, city officials said they are getting close to reimposing stay-at-home orders. They are also preparing to reopen a medical facility established at a football stadium.
Other places have seen more localized jumps that are less likely to be tied to reopening, though could possibly be exacerbated by it.
Outbreaks at meat processing plants, such as one in Minnesota, have contributed to spread the virus.
As have outbreaks at places like nursing homes and jails, such as one in El Paso, where daily new cases in the city appear to have jumped after an earlier decline.
Some states and communities might want to keep an eye on South Korea, where public facilities in Seoul were closed again in late May after outbreaks occurred after the reopening there.