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Nine COVID-19 myths that spread misinformation

The Mayo Clinic urges people to not believe the myth that fabric masks don't protect yourself or others from COVID-19. “Simply put, wearing a cloth mask helps decrease the spread of COVID-19.” the Mayo Clinic states on its website. Adobe stock image

The Mayo Clinic urges people to not believe the myth that fabric masks don't protect yourself or others from COVID-19. “Simply put, wearing a cloth mask helps decrease the spread of COVID-19.” the Mayo Clinic states on its website. Adobe stock image

As COVID-19 spreads in our community, so do conflicting messages about the severity of the virus and the effectiveness of the measures used to protect residents.

“The pushback on all mitigation guidelines, mostly due to these 'myths,' and the disbelief in this pandemic — which will go down in history like the 1918 influenza — has been intense,” said Terri Farneti, public health coordinator for Yavapai County Community Health Services.

The Courier turned to some of the most trusted medical experts in the world to find out what they consider are facts and what myths are being circulated in our community.

Here is what we learned;

Myth 1: More people die from the flu than COVID-19

Health experts estimate the mortality rate of COVID-19 is substantially higher (possibly 10 times or more) than that of most strains of the flu. According to Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, there have been approximately 1,559,873 COVID-19 deaths reported worldwide. In the U.S, 286,338 people have died of COVID-19 between January 2020 and Dec. 9, 2020, based on the center’s COVID-19 Global Cases map. The World Health Organization estimates that 290,000 to 650,000 people die of flu-related causes every year worldwide. It is true both are contagious respiratory diseases caused by viruses, but COVID-19 has proven to be far more deadly.

Myth 2: Fabric masks don’t protect yourself or others from COVID-19

“Simply put, wearing a cloth mask helps decrease the spread of COVID-19.” the Mayo Clinic states on its website. Countless research studies show that a significant number of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, meaning they do not display any symptoms. “These people may not know they are transmitting the virus to others when they talk, sneeze, cough or raise their voice (e.g., singing or shouting),” the Mayo Clinic explains. Wearing a cloth mask does reduce the chance of transmitting respiratory droplets to others.

In addition, in November the CDC announced that new research conducted since the pandemic began now shows that face masks also offer a degree of protection from the virus to the person wearing the mask. “Studies demonstrate that cloth mask materials can also reduce wearers’ exposure to infectious droplets through filtration, including filtration of fine droplets and particles less than 10 microns,” the CDC reported in a Nov. 20 scientific brief.

Friday, Dec. 4, the CDC reemphasized that face masks are “critical” to controlling the spread of coronavirus. “Consistent and correct use of face masks is a public health strategy critical to reducing respiratory transmission of SARS-CoV-2, particularly in light of estimates that approximately one half of new infections are transmitted by persons who have no symptoms,” the CDC reported.

Myth 3: Spikes in COVID-19 cases are because of increased testing

According to the Mayo Clinic, the rise in infections is not related to increased testing. Of greater concern than the number of tests performed is the increase in the percentage of positive results. “This means that the virus is quickly spreading in our communities,” the Mayo Clinic explains. “COVID-19 testing is critical, as it helps people make decisions to self-isolate and guides health care providers’ decisions for medical treatment. Widespread testing also allows local health departments to monitor the virus’ spread, and make recommendations to schools and businesses.”

Myth 4: We can achieve herd immunity by letting the virus spread through the population

Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community becomes immune to a disease, making the spread from person to person unlikely, the Mayo Clinic explains. One significant problem with this belief is that it isn’t yet clear if infection with the COVID-19 virus makes a person immune.

Even if COVID-19 infection creates long-lasting immunity, health experts estimate that 70% of the population in the U.S. — more than 200 million people — would have to recover from COVID-19 to halt the epidemic, the Mayo Clinic reports. This amount of infection also could lead to serious, and potentially long-term, complications, millions of deaths and a healthcare system that becomes overwhelmed.

Myth 5: The number of COVID-19 deaths is much lower, and the disease is overblown

According to the Mayo Clinic, this myth stems from a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention table that showed the majority of people who died of COVID-19 had multiple causes listed on their death certificate. The myth speculates the majority of these deaths were the result of another pre-existing condition, such as heart or lung conditions, weakened immune systems, severe obesity or diabetes. “The problem with this reasoning is the vast majority of these people could have lived much longer if they had not contracted COVID-19” the CDC explained.

Myth 6: Only the elderly or those with underlying health conditions will get seriously ill and require hospitalization for COVID-19

While dangerous symptoms from COVID-19 may be increased in people who are older or in people of any age who have other serious health problems, people of all ages are being hospitalized with COVID-19, the Mayo Clinic reports.

Myth 7: The quality of COVID-19 data cannot be trusted

As with any new virus or disease, knowledge increases as physicians and scientists have time to study the patients and adjust treatments. Early in the pandemic, information about COVID-19 was changing often. This is typical, but the evolving revelations may have caused some people to be concerned with the reliability of the information and the data. “In addition, partisan approaches and messaging led to further skepticism,” the Mayo Clinic explains.

Myth 8: I’m taking an antibiotic, so this may prevent or treat COVID-19

Fact: Antibiotics treat only bacteria, not viruses. COVID-19 is caused by a virus. However, some people who are hospitalized for COVID-19 may receive antibiotics because they have a different bacterial infection at the same time, the Mayo Clinic explains.

Myth 9: Children who develop COVID-19 don’t become critically ill

While the CDC reports fewer children have been sick with COVID-19 compared with adults, children can be infected and become ill with the virus. In addition, children can spread the virus to others, the Mayo Clinic explains. Most children with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. However, some children get severely ill from COVID-19. They might require hospitalization, intensive care or a ventilator to help them breathe. In rare cases, they may die, the Mayo Clinic warns.

“It is unfortunate when people believe it’s okay for children and young people to get COVID-19, Farneti told the Courier. “There are some long-term effects for anyone who gets infected.”

MYTHS INCREASE SPREAD AND PROMOTE CONFUSION

Myths and misinformation like those listed above can exacerbate the spread of COVID-19 and create unnecessary challenges for health workers during the pandemic. Such myths also downplay the need for individuals and community leaders to take mitigation actions that can save lives and reduce the strain on local healthcare systems.

In a report last week, the White House coronavirus task force issued dire warnings to state public health officials urging them to take action to enact tighter COVID-19 spread mitigation measures, including face mask mandates and more indoor dining restrictions. “The COVID risk to all Americans is at a historic high,” the Nov. 29 report stated. “The national daily COVID incidence after Memorial Day, but before the summer surge, was fewer than 25,000 new cases/day and is now more than 180,000 new cases/day; COVID inpatients then were fewer than 30,000 but are now more than 90,000; fatalities have more than doubled.”

The task force report concluded with, “We are in a very dangerous place due to the current, extremely high COVID baseline and limited hospital capacity; a further post-Thanksgiving surge will compromise COVID patient care, as well as medical care overall.”

Farneti and the county health department are asking area residents to take the pandemic seriously and not embrace myths that can lead to more loss of life in the community.

“There are many residents who have lost loved ones due to COVID-19, mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles...and dear friends,” she said. “With the surge in hospitalizations, it is likely we’ll see many more. It may be a low percentage, but is it worth the risk to lose someone you love?”

For source information and to learn more, visit the Mayo Clinic Health System COVID-19 page at https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/covid19, and the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center at https://coronavirus.jhu.edu. Special thanks to the Mayo Clinic for their ongoing efforts to educate and inform communities during the pandemic.

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