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Virus Vitriol:
Dealing with COVID-19

Don Mosier | MD, PhD, Rimini Road

 
Updated numbers for the United States through June 26th Note that the scale has changed as the number of
daily infections approaches 40,000.
Source: Johns Hopkins University/Washington Post

The virus that causes COVID-19 disease, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), first was transmitted to humans in late 2019. It is a new virus causing a new disease that has now (as of June 28th) infected more than 10 million people worldwide and caused more than 500,000 deaths, including more than 125,000 in the US. There is still a lot we don’t know about the consequences of infection. Why are some infected individuals asymptomatic (as many as 40-50%) while others die from the infection? Do individuals who recover from clinical disease return to normal health or do they suffer long-lasting organ damage? Do individuals who recover from infection develop protective antibodies, and how long do they last? How easily is the virus transmitted by airborne routes? Six months into the pandemic, none of these questions have satisfactory answers. We will have to wait for solid, peer-reviewed scientific studies to understand more about this disease. I respect the attitude of my friend Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is not afraid to say “I don’t know the answer to that question.”

Despite this lack of knowledge, all of us who are anxious for more information are almost daily besieged with “expert” advice both from medical professionals who profess to know more than possible and from conspiracy theorists who willing spread false information. These messages, whether possibly true or demonstrably false, get amplified by the print and social media, especially when they come from the current occupant of the White House, and past trusted sources like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention compound the problem by remaining silent. A recent post in Scientific American by Sarah Kreps and Douglas Kriner of Cornell University (“Good News and Bad News about COVID-19 Misinformation,” posted June 10, 2020) reports the results of a survey designed to determine if a random sample of US citizens could distinguish true from false statements about the COVID-19 virus. Between 20-25% of respondents believed the false information, but an equally troubling percentage rejected the true statements. They concluded: “Our evidence points to a public that is too polarized, ideologically entrenched, and awash in information to believe even true content; the more individuals consumed social media for their news, the less capable they were of sniffing out the differences between real and fake content; many do not trust anything.”

I read this post hoping to understand why so many people are not wearing masks or practicing social distancing. More information and messaging may be futile if “many do not trust anything,” including advice coming from public health officials. So maybe we can just keep this local and decide to protect ourselves, our family, and our neighbors by taking personal responsibility for our actions.

 

 

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