Coronavirus Myths Busted: Separating Truth From Lies And Hoaxes

These are confusing times for America as the battle to slow the spread of the new coronavirus is fought on multiple fronts, including a skirmish to find the truth.

Many of the hoaxes circulating online and through social media conflate grains of truth and rumor, making the information conveyed quasi-plausible in an atmosphere of confusion and fear. Some of the pieces of “information” circulating are outright lies.

Patch looked at some of the most pervasive rumors, and here is the truth based on the most currently available information.

Patch will periodically update this story as new rumors, misinformation and hoaxes surface.

CLAIM: In various iterations of this, text messages people are forwarding to their friends, families and business networks spread information supposedly from someone who just left a two-hour briefing with the CIA and highly placed government officials. The message warns people to stock up on everything they’ll need for two weeks because a national lockdown or quarantine is coming from President Donald Trump within 48 to 72 hours.

FALSE: This is false — as of Friday’s statements by the president. Trump said that he was not currently considering a national lockdown.

The White House’s National Security Council also debunked the national lockdown rumor in a tweet: “Text message rumors of a national #quarantine are FAKE. There is no national lockdown.”

What’s true is that when Trump declared a national emergency, he invoked the Stafford Act, usually used to trigger federal aid to states in natural disasters and other times of crisis. Importantly, the Stafford Act does not give the federal government the authority to impose mandatory quarantines. The administration also closed the nation’s borders to people traveling from high-risk countries, except for U.S. citizens coming home, but that wasn’t a lockdown. Neither is the urgent recommendation by public health officials that Americans hunker down in their homes for the next 15 days.

That doesn’t mean a national shelter-in-place order is impossible, and Patch will alert you if that becomes the case.

CLAIM: Cities and counties across the country have issued shelter-in-place orders to help prevent the community spread of the virus. National Guard troops have been deployed, and residents of these areas are living under martial law.

FALSE: That claim is Part 2 of the hoax detailed above. It’s true National Guard troops have been deployed to some areas with shelter-in-place orders; the soldiers aren’t acting as police enforcing civil law, though. Rather, their duties include providing humanitarian aid, closing critical service gaps and building temporary hospitals.

Martial law is a rarely used legal power that isn’t specifically written into the Constitution, and it’s been contentious in the handful of times the military has been used to enforce the law because police and courts are for some reason unable to function.

Patch’s Mark Konkol debunked these and other social media hoaxes. READ MORE: Pals Don’t Let Pals Fall For Coronavirus Hoaxes On Social Media

CLAIM: The coronavirus can be spread in food.

LIKELY FALSE: The Food and Drug Administration says there is currently no evidence to support transmission of the coronavirus associated with food, but says for general food safety, it’s important to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before handling food.

In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures, the FDA says.

You should always handle and prepare food safely, including keeping raw meat separate from other foods, refrigerating perishable foods, and cooking meat to the right temperature to kill harmful germs. See CDC’s Food Safety site for more information.

CLAIM: The coronavirus remains alive for hours or days on plastic and metal surfaces.

LIKELY TRUE: A team of researchers from the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, University of California-Los Angeles and Princeton University found the coronavirus can last for hours or days on some surfaces. The study found it lasts:

Up to three hours in aerosols; Up to four hours on copper; Up to 24 hours on cardboard; Up to two or three days on plastic and stainless steel.

The researchers said their findings show that secondary cases of the new coronavirus — those not associated with travel — occur in communities rather than health care settings, although they emphasized health care facilities are vulnerable to the spread of the virus and that the stability of the virus in aerosols contributes to the spread of the virus.

CLAIM: Home remedies such as drinking plenty of water and gargling with vinegar and warm salt water will stop the virus from traveling into the lungs, and rinsing the nose with saline will speed recovery.

FALSE: The World Health Organization addressed this and other false coronavirus medical advice circulated on social media and says there’s no evidence saline nasal rinses offer any protection against a coronavirus infection.

“There is some limited evidence that regularly rinsing the nose with saline can help people recover more quickly from the common cold,” the agency said. “However, regularly rinsing the nose has not been shown to prevent respiratory infections.”

It’s true that increasing water intake during respiratory and other illnesses is important to prevent dehydration, and it’s no different with COVID-19. Gargling with home remedies has no effect on the illness, according to the fact-checking site Snopes.

CLAIM: If you can hold your breath for 10 seconds without coughing, you haven’t been infected by the coronavirus.

FALSE: Posts that circulated on social media and in emails claiming the reliability of the breath test were falsely attributed to a member of the Stanford Health Care board, but Stanford spokeswoman Lisa Kim told CNN the post contains dangerous, inaccurate information.

CLAIM: Frequently washing hands under hot soapy water for at least 20 seconds — taking care to wash between fingers, around cuticles and under fingernails — offers the best protection against the new coronavirus, but when that’s impossible to do, a 60 percent alcohol-based hand sanitizer is almost as effective.

TRUE: That’s true, though it’s not the only protection against the new coronavirus. The CDC’s recommendation is to avoid being exposed in the first place, by limiting contact with others and meeting socially in groups of 10 or fewer; maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet between people; coughing and sneezing into a tissue and immediately disposing of it or, as an alternative, sneezing into your elbow; avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; and regularly wiping down frequently touched surfaces — for example, countertops, door handles, light switches, television remotes, toilet and bathroom fixtures.

What do terms like “social distancing,” “flatten the curve” and others mean? READ MORE: Coronavirus Adds New Terms To Daily Speech What disinfectants work? READ MORE: EPA Lists Disinfectant Products To Fight Coronavirus

CLAIM: Although people age 60 and older appear to be most vulnerable to the coronavirus illness and most often show symptoms, younger people who are asymptomatic can unknowingly carry and spread the virus and should also follow the government’s social distancing recommendations.

TRUE: Researchers don’t know if some people are more immune than others, but they do know no one is completely immune. The coronavirus is still in the early stages in the United States, but what public health officials know so far is that more than a third of patients who have been hospitalized so far are between the ages of 20 and 54.

A new CDC report says that Americans of all ages are being seriously sickened by the coronavirus. It’s true that COVID-19 patients in their 70s, 80s and 90s have the most risk of dying, but the report showed 38 percent of the 508 patients hospitalized have been between the ages of 20 and 54. And nearly half of the 121 patients who were admitted to intensive care units were adults under 65.

Public health officials have implored millennials and others who aren’t in a high risk group to behave as if they are. White House coronavirus coordinator Dr. Deborah Brix says millennials can play a key role in promoting the urgency of the situation to their peers.

CLAIM: Hundreds of nurses were furloughed at seven Connecticut hospitals because they couldn’t be tested for the new coronavirus.

FALSE: Though the governor of Connecticut claimed that on a national television broadcast, it’s not true.

The statement didn’t pass the smell test with Patch’s Rich Kirby. READ MORE: Coronavirus CT: Are 200 Hospital Employees Really Furloughed?

CLAIM: America will run out of toilet paper before the coronavirus pandemic is over.

FALSE: Some people are panic-buying toilet paper, and that’s what’s contributing to empty toilet paper aisles in the United States and around the world. U.S. toilet paper makers are ramping up production to ensure an ample supply of toilet paper.

The panic buying contributed to a 60 percent increase in toilet paper sales in the week ending March 7, according to Nielsen data, and that has made TP more expensive.

READ MORE: Could America Ran Out Of Toilet Paper? | America’s Coronavirus Virus: Psychology Of Panic And Stockpiling

CLAIM: The spread of the coronavirus from China to the rest of the world has been accompanied by a rise in racism and xenophobia against Asians.

TRUE: Asian Americans Advancing Justice and other groups report dozens of incidents of hate speech and physical attacks directed at Asians, and calls them reminiscent of the 1800s pejorative “yellow peril,” pinned on Chinese Americans, suggesting they represented an existential threat to the Western world.

John C. Yang, who heads the group, told The Associated Press that “words matter” and “in reality, Chinese are not more genetically prone to transmit the virus. What we all need to do is focus on our public health.”

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