Whether you turn on the TV, log on to social media or open a newspaper, it’s impossible to escape news about COVID-19. Yet with so much information available from so many sources, it can be hard to determine what’s accurate and what’s not.
Keep in mind: The new coronavirus was only detected for the first time in the U.S. in late January.
“I’m hearing myths all the time,” says Irfan Hafiz, MD, infectious disease specialist and chief medical officer at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital. “I hear them in the hospital (from patients) and from family and friends.”
Emily Landon, MD, an infectious disease specialist at UChicago Medicine, says it’s not surprising that misinformation abounds because knowledge about COVID-19 is changing and developing daily. “This is a brand-new virus,” she says. “And we’ve changed [protocols] as we’ve learned things.”
To find reliable information about COVID-19, turn to official sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and local health departments, such as the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Chicago Department of Public Health.
To correct current coronavirus misinformation, we talked with infectious disease physicians who addressed some of the most common myths.
MYTH: The coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, does not affect young, healthy people.
FACT: While COVID-19 is more deadly and results in more serious outcomes for older adults and for individuals with chronic conditions such as lung disease, diabetes or cardiovascular disease, it can affect anyone of any age and any background.
Approximately 10% of U.S. patients hospitalized for COVID-19 were age 18 to 49, according to preliminary COVID-NET data as of May 9.
“Young people don’t die as much from this, but there are plenty of young people who are very, very sick from this,” Landon says. “Some need to be on a ventilator or in intensive care for days. That’s a big deal. It takes a long time to recover from that.”
MYTH: COVID-19 is no different from the flu.
FACT: “It’s a myth that [COVID-19] is nothing more than the flu because it’s 10 times deadlier than the flu,” Landon says. “Everybody is susceptible to it. No one has antibodies for it unless they’ve had it. There are no vaccines and no anti-virals yet.”
Multiple organizations are working on a potential vaccine, but it will take time to develop and test any vaccine to make sure it’s safe and effective in preventing COVID-19.
Hafiz adds that the game-changer “is going to be the vaccine, but it’s probably going to be next year before we have a good one out there.”
MYTH: Some remedies like vitamin C, garlic or elderberries can cure COVID-19.
FACT: There is no evidence that vitamin C, garlic, elderberries or any current remedy can cure COVID-19 or prevent you from becoming infected. Also, spraying or injecting bleach or a disinfectant into your body will not protect you against COVID-19 and can be dangerous, according to the WHO.
The U.S. Department of Justice is alerting people to frauds and scams that purport to offer a cure or preventative for COVID-19. There is currently no medical cure or treatment for the illness.
The best way to prevent yourself from getting sick is to avoid exposure to the virus. Practice social distancing, and frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
MYTH: It does no good to wear a mask unless it’s a medical-grade N95 mask.
FACT: A mask, even a fabric one, can limit the spread of the droplets that carry COVID-19.
“The role of the mask is primarily to help others in the community,” says Hafiz, adding that a fabric mask is appropriate and protective for day-to-day activities.
Although Hafiz has seen people wearing N95 masks for everyday activities, he says that N95 masks are appropriate for healthcare workers but aren’t necessary for day-to-day living. N95 masks are critical personal protective equipment that should be reserved for healthcare workers and first responders. Plus, they can be hot and hard to fit properly, making them ineffective.
“If an N95 mask doesn’t fit properly, it’s probably useless,” Hafiz says. “It gives a false sense of security if you don’t wear it properly.”
Landon says she agrees with the CDC’s recommendation that people wear fabric masks in public settings. “The most important thing they’ll do is provide some protection if someone coughs or sneezes in your face,” she says. And if you’re sick, a mask will prevent you from infecting others.
The CDC provides tips on how to make, wash and wear fabric masks. In Illinois, individuals over age 2 are required to wear a face mask in public indoor places, such as stores, and when they are unable to maintain a 6-foot distance.
MYTH: African Americans can’t get COVID-19.
FACT: Almost 32% of the people in Chicago who have contracted COVID-19, and 47% of those who have died from it, are African American, as of May 19. By contrast, African Americans make up 30% of the city’s population, according to Census data.
MYTH: Hand dryers kill the virus.
FACT: Hand dryers are not effective at killing the coronavirus, according to the WHO. To clean your hands, you should frequently wash them for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
After you’ve washed your hands, you should dry them thoroughly with a clean towel. That’s because germs can transfer more easily with wet hands, the CDC says. But it’s not because hand dryers kill the virus.
MYTH: Hot and humid weather prevents the spread of coronavirus.
FACT: Cases of COVID-19 have been seen in the majority of countries throughout the world, including those with hot and humid weather, such as Iran and Brazil.
“There are plenty of viral infections that occur in tropical climates,” Hafiz says.
MYTH: The coronavirus is spread by 5G mobile networks.
FACT: COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. People can also be infected by touching a contaminated surface and then touching their hands, nose or mouth.
COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred in many places that don’t have 5G, the WHO reports, noting that viruses can’t spread on radio waves or mobile networks.
Some people claim that 5G networks use high-frequency radio waves that can weaken the immune system or triggers the virus.
The Federal Communications Commission responds, “A worldwide online conspiracy theory has attempted to link 5G cell phone technology as being one of the causes of the coronavirus. Many cell towers have been set on fire as a result. 5G technology does NOT cause coronavirus.”