- There is a lot of misinformation floating around about the novel coronavirus, and we’d like to clear some things up.
- We flesh out two talked-about truths and pull apart one lie that might come across your feed.
- In this episode, we look at social distancing, mutations, and mortality rates to tell you what you need to know, and especially what you don’t.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Reporter: The coronavirus has mutated.
Reporter: Some strains are far more infectious as this virus continues to spread.
Reporter: It doesn’t prove that this new strain is in fact more infectious.
Abby Tang: Hello, fellow sceptics. It’s me, Abby! There is a lot of information flying into our eyes and ears at any given moment. And it can be hard to tell sometimes what’s true, what’s not. So I grabbed three of the most common talking points that you’re probably seeing on your feed, two truths, one lie, and I did a little digging.
Truth No. 1: It’s OK to go outside!
It’s really nice out here. But social distancing is still the best way to control the spread. Both things can be true. I’m a big fan of this viral blog post by an immunologist who delightfully puts all his credentials on the front page of his blog. But he’s very up front about not claiming to be an expert, and some of the work he cites hasn’t been peer reviewed yet, so I ran it by our senior health reporter Anna. She said, “Looks good.”
The whole post is a solid read, but the main takeaway is this: Successful infection equals exposure to virus multiplied by time. Basically, the more viral particles you’re exposed to and the longer you’re exposed to them, the more likely you’ll be infected.
Sorry about this gross picture! But this cough can apparently contain up to 200 million virus particles, a number that I could not find in original source for but shows up everywhere, so let’s take it with a grain of salt. Point is, if a sick person coughs right into your face, breathes, too, but to a lesser degree, your chances of getting infected are gonna be high. Which is why going over to a friend’s house… not ideal. But if you just walk by someone on the footpath, chances are you’re gonna be fine, because you’re limiting the amount of time you’re being exposed and the number of particles you’re being exposed to by not locking yourself in a room full of them. So going outside is super-low risk as long as you’re staying physically distant.
I think this quote from a previous Insider article sums it up perfectly:
Erich Anderer: Outside is better than inside, open space is better than closed, fewer people is better than more people, and stay away from sick people. Or, better yet, stay home if you’re not feeling well yourself.
Abby: Thanks, Erich.
Truth No. 2: The virus that causes COVID-19 is mutating all the time.
It’s true that viruses mutate. Viruses mutate more often than practically any other organism. But we shouldn’t be treating it as a big, scary thing, which a lot of places have. Which is exactly how this study turned into this, then had to be corrected into this.
First, it’s worth noting that this paper has not been peer reviewed, which it does say in the study, at the top, in bright yellow, right before saying it should not be reported in news media as established information. But peers have been informally reviewing it on Twitter, and at least one epidemiologist, Bill, thinks the paper itself is fine. So, based on that, the problem is in interpreting the data.
The first headline says that the mutant coronavirus is more contagious than the original. But while the mutated strain of the virus is more prevalent, we don’t know if it was the mutation that gave it a leg up. There are other factors, like the fact that this particular strain happened to show up on the East Coast, which responded to the outbreak more slowly than the West. And this is something that happens all the time, but mutation is not a dirty word.
Bill put it best in his tweet: “Mutations are what happens when genomes replicate. Comes with the territory like showers with the springtime.” Poetry. And if you want to know what mutation actually is, I made a whole entire video about it that you can see here.
And now the lie: COVID-19 only kills older people and those with preexisting conditions.
Here’s why this meme really gets my goat. The goal seems to be to quell some panic, but what it really does is spread misinformation. As far as we know at this point, anyone can die from this disease. Old people, healthy people, children. Yeah. Unfortunately, there have been a couple documented cases.
This study is a little on the older side, but it’s still the biggest one we have. The death rate is absolutely lower the younger and healthier you are. But do you want to be one of the few in that 0.2%, guy from my Facebook feed? I’m gonna say no.
As new information comes out about who this virus is most dangerous for and why, the risk by population adjusts. Which is a really complicated topic, so if you want to learn more about it, my colleague did a video here. But new information only changes what we know about risk; it doesn’t eliminate it. And, yeah, I don’t want to die from this, but I don’t want to be sick either. This CDC data suggests that 30% of cases and 20% of hospitalizations in the US are people between the ages of 20 and 44. And recovery can be a slow and painful process that could take months.
Bottom line: Low risk doesn’t mean no risk. So protect yourself and the people around you by being cautious. Not panicky, but cautious. So there you go: two truths and a lie. Add them to your Hinge profile. And if any of this sets off your this-is-complete-crap-ometer, great! Stay sceptical. Fact-check me; my sources are in the credits.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in June 2020.
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