In Our Words: On false COVID-19 info and how it spreads

There seems to be a lot of disinformation and conspiracy theory nonsense circulating around COVID-19. This week, I want to debunk as much of that as I can while giving some of the reasons why this stuff keeps spreading.

No, 5G has nothing to do with COVID-19. No, getting drunk doesn’t somehow kill the virus or increase your resistance.

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No, you shouldn’t inject or drink disinfectant or bleach to treat COVID-19. It could very well kill COVID-19, but unfortunately, it’ll kill you first. The same goes for intense heat or cold, which internet rumours say could have a positive effect. Nope.

While drugs are showing possible upside to treat some aspects of COVID-19, there’s no vaccine or clinically approved treatment. Any vaccine will not be available for months, since it takes a lot of time to create, test, mass-produce and distribute a vaccine, especially a new one.

Wearing masks is valuable, as is social distancing. Try to keep a six-foot distance between you and others in public - as a big fan of personal space, y’all should have been doing that anyway, but I digress.

The following things will not “kill off” COVID-19; green tea, ultraviolet light, garlic, antibiotics, zinc, exercise, “COVID parties”, prayer or tequila shots.

Keep in mind wearing a mask isn’t meant to keep you from getting COVID-19 – it’s meant to keep you from spreading it if you have it and don’t know it. Clean stuff off. Wash your hands, sanitize surfaces and if you’re working from home, remember to shower and get dressed at some point.

COVID-19 isn’t a Chinese bioweapon according to any credible source and it’s not part of some overarching government conspiracy possibly involving pizza and child endangerment or a population control strategy sponsored by Bill Gates.

It also isn’t part of some draconian Liberal plot to deliberately tank the economy. Look at it like this - if the feds can’t talk about SNC Lavalin without it going out on the CP wire, how could anyone in Ottawa plot that if they tried?

There has not been any substantive link between Black Lives Matter protests and higher COVID-19 rates, since most protesters kept distance when possible, wore masks and generally played it safe. Likewise, links between some anti-lockdown protests and outbreaks have been made due mostly to people not wearing masks or distancing.

Dozens of outbreaks worldwide have been tied to mass gatherings. Opening schools, bars, restaurants or other places where people meet closely indoors is incredibly risky during COVID-19.

There are legitimate questions about COVID-19 we don’t know – the long-term impact it will have on infected people, the impact of shutdowns on the global economy, the effect the disease may have on rates of suicide, drug overdoses or violence and exactly how it spreads. We, as Canadians, have our best people on that and we’ll hear what they find out when they find it out.

There. That’s pretty much COVID-19 101. Seems pretty simple.

With that info being pretty easy to digest, why are people having trouble with it? Why are people going to unproven information from the internet? I have some theories.

First, a lack of literacy with online media and a lack of trust with traditional media sources and authorities. Ten million websites all claiming to be breaking news on COVID-19 aren’t always correct.

Today, a lot of people can’t tell what is and isn’t a reliable source online. If you’re in doubt, Google is your friend – search and try to find as many credible mainstream sources as possible to corroborate or debunk information. Use a fact-checking website like Snopes, too.

Mainstream media outlets and papers are usually doing good COVID-19 coverage. There are exceptions, but journalists are putting in yeoman’s work on this every day.

Another note is to not trust unreliable sources. There’s been a Facebook post going around within my own circle of people, claiming to be from B.C. chief medical officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, with a list of short, rather glib points about COVID-19. The list is a fake. It’s already made the rounds a few times during the pandemic, usually with a new name people might trust attached to it. It’s bull. If any government health officer had something to say, they would either make a statement through the press or through their branch of government – they don’t moonlight making viral Facebook posts. They're kind of busy right now.

The second point is something I touched on earlier. Since COVID-19 is new and scientific knowledge on it often shifts, it’s easy to suspend disbelief and fall for whatever anybody says. Things change rapidly and it can be hard to keep track. For instance, it may sound reasonable to not take ibuprofen when suffering from COVID-19 because people say it might make symptoms worse – the reality is there’s no current proven link there.

The next theory is that people will usually find information that matches up with their own beliefs. If you already don’t like Justin Trudeau, it’s barely a leap that if you see a story making some claim between Trudeau and COVID-19, you’ll probably believe it. You could, in theory, say the same thing about the President – sadly, many of the stories involving him and the U.S. response to COVID-19 end up being true.

This is how we get the odd difference in perception between people on different sides of the political spectrum on mask use. No, wearing masks in public is not a tyrannical government stepping unjustifiably into your personal life. If you're in an area affected by COVID-19, not wearing a mask puts everyone around you at risk. It's not a statement on your political beliefs - it's a statement that you don't care if the people around you get sick or die.

By the way, the government and law mandates that you wear clothes in most public places. If you really want to protest government overreach, go shopping naked. That way, everyone else in the Walmart can play an easy round of a game called "spot the wingnut."

Finally, conspiracy theories can be easier to stomach than the truth. What is scarier – that there’s a deadly disease going around the world, that there’s no cure, that we don’t know much about it, that it’s already killed more Americans than died in World War I and that we have to shut down life as we know it indefinitely, or that it’s all some charade meant to scare you? I know what I’d rather believe.

I can’t fault people for getting scared during COVID-19. I’m scared. You’ve likely been, too.

Fear isn’t going to make this go away. All we can do is ensure the right information gets out there and we find a way to stop this once and for all.

 

*The information mentioned from this part of the column comes from work by the WHO, the US FDA, the Public Health Agency of Canada, HIV/AIDS organization AVERT, the Univ. of Toronto, various reputable media outlets and other sources I don’t have room to cite – just in case you don’t trust me, I wanted to show my work.

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