Combat COVID-19 hoaxes, rumors and misconceptions with factual information

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The COVID-19 outbreak is scary enough to most people, but misinformation whirling around on social media is causing fear and online battles between conspiracy theorists, realists and those who are fact-checking information.

How can residents tell what is real and what isn’t?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency advised that people can help stop the spread of disinformation by doing three simple things: don’t believe the rumors; don’t pass them along and do go to trusted sources of information to get the facts.

The best sources for reliable information are https://coronavirus.gov, https://www.cdc.gov, https://www.usa.gov/coronavirus, plus Riverside County’s Public Health website https://www.rivcoph.org.

Jennifer Leach, associate director of the division of consumer and business education at the Federal Trade Commission, said, “Bottom line: when you come across new – sometimes alarming – information, stop. Talk to someone else. Focus on whether the facts back up the information you’re hearing. Good, solid evidence will point you in the right direction. Then decide what you think and what you want to do with the message – pass it on, act on it, ignore it or roll your eyes at it. And if you suspect a scam, tell the Federal Trade Commission so we can keep trying to shut the creeps down.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 is a new disease, and scientists are still trying to understand how it spreads. At this time, it is thought to spread mainly from close contact with a person who is currently sick with COVID-19. The virus likely transmits through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or even be inhaled into the lungs directly. It may be possible for a person to contract COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and touching their own mouth, nose or eyes, but this method is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

Some of the rumors and hoaxes spreading faster than the virus are outrageous and disturbing. Many more will develop in the coming weeks, so vigilance is a must.

New 5G cell towers do not cause the virus to spread. 5G is a wireless mobile network that was deployed in 2019 to help improve telecommunications and mobile connectivity. It works at a higher wave frequency than its predecessors. Since the outbreak, some people are claiming it exacerbates virus transmission through its frequencies or by suppressing the human immune system.

There have even been claims that the virus is being purposely spread to cover up the dangerous effects of the mobile network. However, there is no credible link between the two.

The World Health Organization, which has a detailed guide on the 5G network, said “no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies,” after much research was carried out.

The federal government is not seizing various medical supplies intended for victims in certain states.

The FBI discovered hoarded supplies while performing an enforcement operation by the Department of Justice’s COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force, March 30. The shipment included about 192,000 N95 respirator masks.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which used its authority under the Defense Production Act, ordered that the supplies be immediately furnished to the United States. HHS said it intends to compensate the owner of the hoarded equipment the pre-outbreak fair market value for the supplies.

There have been reports that scammers are pretending to be the government representatives and contacting people by robocall, text message, email and chat apps. They claim they can get people financial assistance during the pandemic and ask for money or Social Security, bank account or credit card number. Disaster workers do not solicit or accept money.

Currently, there are no Food and Drug Administration approved drugs specifically designed for the treatment of COVID-19. Researchers are studying new and already approved drugs as possible treatments for COVID-19.

The FDA protects consumers from unapproved products and false or misleading claims. Consumers and health care professionals can help by reporting suspected fraud to the FDA’s Health Fraud Program or the Office of Criminal Investigations.

A Washington Times story claimed that coronavirus may have originated in lab linked to China’s biowarfare program.

This article has since been removed from the Washington Times website as false information.

Forbes reported that Steve Mosher wrote an opinion piece in February for the New York Post, “Don’t buy China’s story: The coronavirus may have leaked from a lab.”

However, RNA sequences of the virus closely resemble those of viruses that circulate in bats, and epidemiologic information suggested a bat-origin virus infected unidentified animal species sold in China’s live-animal markets.

The SARS virus may have caused the 2002-2003 outbreak after it jumped from bats to humans via intermediate hosts. Additionally, the analyzed genetic sequences that code the protein spikes on the surface of SARS-CoV2 are used by the virus to latch on to a cell and push its way in.

Portions of these spike proteins are so effective in targeting specific receptors on human cells that it is hard to imagine any scientists manufacturing them, not with existing technology.

There is no national lockdown or quarantine. States and cities are responsible for announcing curfews, shelters in place or other restrictions and safety measures.

There is no reason at this time to think that any animals, including pets, might be a source of infection with this new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Pets have other types of coronaviruses that can make them sick, like canine and feline coronaviruses. These other coronaviruses cannot infect people and are not related to the current COVID-19 outbreak.

There are scores of messages warning against using ibuprofen for COVID-19 fevers, suggesting serious adverse reactions in possible or confirmed cases. The French minister of health tweeted advice to avoid ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory drugs because they could be an aggravating factor in COVID-19 cases. Instantly, national and world health authorities, as well as armchair experts, were warning people to avoid ibuprofen. The evidence does not support that claim, however.

Bill Gates and the World Economic Forum did not predict the coronavirus outbreak.

On March 16, @freedom_faction posted an image on Instagram paired with the claim that “COVID-19 was launched” a month after billionaire Bill Gates hosted a high-level pandemic exercise event called Event 201.

Event 201 was a real operation, but there is no evidence that it was meant to model or engineer the current pandemic. Event 201 was a tabletop exercise that simulated a global pandemic,

which resulted from a new coronavirus. The scenario was hosted in October 2019 by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and World Economic Forum.

The event featured invited medical professionals, policy experts and business analysts all focused on how different institutions would respond to the onset of a deadly virus. The fictional coronavirus in the scenario killed 65 million people over 18 months. Joint recommendations from participants urged international cooperation both in preparing for and handling a pandemic.

USA Today said, “Our ruling: False. Although Event 201 was a real event affiliated with high-profile medical professionals, business leaders and government actors, the claim that the event predicted the current pandemic, or is tied to it directly in some way, is unfounded. We rate this claim ‘FALSE’ because it is not supported by our research. There is no reason to believe that the current pandemic will resemble the Event 201 simulation, despite coincidences in the modeling and timing of the simulation.”

Pictures and reports of empty hospitals seemed to prove the COVID-19 spread is a fake crisis for government-planned agendas.

On Twitter, photos and video clips supposedly showing nearly empty hospital parking lots were tagged with #FilmYourHospital. More of the same has occurred on a YouTube Citizen Reporters video.

Facebook hosted posts such as this one with dire warnings of a conspiracy: “Nurses reporting hospitals are empty mostly. Fake crisis for real government planned agendas.”

In reality, hospitals have canceled non-urgent surgeries and other procedures in an effort to free up beds for an expected flood of coronavirus patients, according to Politifact.

Another rumor was that drinking a lot of water and gargling with warm water and salt or vinegar eliminates the virus. These methods have not been identified as working against the coronavirus. There is no remedy yet to prevent or treat the disease, according to Politifact

Instead, the World Health Organization advised residents to wash their hands frequently with soap and water or with alcohol-based hand rub. Stay at home; do not go to work, school or public places if a person is sick. Rest, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food. Stay in a separate room from other family members, but if not possible wear a medical mask and keep a distance of at least 3 feet but upgraded to 6 feet from other people. Keep the room well-ventilated, and if possible, use a dedicated bathroom. When coughing or sneezing, cover the mouth and nose with flexed elbow or use a disposable tissue and discard it after use. If a person experiences difficulty breathing, call a health care facility immediately.

For more information about COVID-19 and its local impact, visit the Riverside County Public Health Department at https://www.rivcoph.org/coronavirus.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at dsieker@reedermedia.com.