Misinformation Costs Lives
Last updated 1/4/2021 at 3:55pm
One of the more discouraging aspects of 2020 was the willingness of millions of Americans to abdicate their ability to reason and accept, without question, false or misleading information. The widespread acceptance of misinformation about COVID-19 has resulted in the loss of thousands of lives.
Not soon after COVID-19 reached our shores, some purveyors of misinformation pronounced it a hoax. For COVID-19 to be a hoax would require our local health department, our medical professionals and even our politicians, including President Trump, who went to Walter Reed Hospital to receive treatment for the coronavirus, to all be part of the hoax. If people believe COVID-19 is a hoax, then logically they would have to conclude that medical personnel, public health officials and politicians – from the left to the right – across the globe would have to be accomplices in this hoax.
Misinformation about the efficacy of masks also was spread. Early last spring, some federal officials made confusing statements about face coverings. When they clarified they wanted the public to forego buying medical masks so that there would not be a shortage of masks for health care providers, the seeds of doubt had been sown. Since that time, however, several studies and some of real-life examples have shown the efficacy of masks. As reported in several science journals, two infected hair stylists in Missouri worked on nearly 140 clients before the stylists knew they had COVID-19. However, because both the hair stylists and their clients wore masks, none of the customers displayed any symptoms of COVID-19 and the 67 customers who were tested for the coronavirus had negative results.
Some spreading misinformation about masks even went so far as to claim that wearing masks was dangerous and potentially fatal. Wearing masks may be uncomfortable and annoying, but masks are not health hazards. Doctors and nurses have been wearing masks for years. Painters and others who work in environments where toxic fumes or allergens are plentiful also have worn masks for years. Any rational person understands that masks, if used properly, provide protection.
On the other hand, superspreader events have occurred where people have not worn masks and have not remained 6 feet apart. One doesn’t have to look far to find the effects of such events. First Baptist Church in Hendersonville held a Christmas concert in which choir and band members were not socially distanced and were not wearing masks. According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website stated, “Following a 2.5-hour choir practice attended by 61 persons, including a symptomatic index patient, 32 confirmed and 20 probable secondary COVID-19 cases occurred.. .; three patients were hospitalized, and two died. Transmission was likely facilitated by close proximity (within 6 feet) during practice and augmented by the act of singing.” Since that time, people who did not attend the concert have been infected by those who did. As of noon on Sunday, Henderson County had reported 5,600 cases and 90 deaths from COVID-19.
With the ubiquity of the internet, falsehoods are difficult to stop or restrain. Lies take on a life of their own. We now are seeing a plethora of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines with claims ranging from the vaccines making people infertile to Bill Gates using the vaccines to implant microchips.
Political leaders such as Vice President Mike Pence, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have publicly received the vaccines in an effort to lesson people’s concerns about being vaccinated. Yet, once the wildfires of misinformation have been lit a handful of people cannot contain them.
Since March, doctors, nurses, first responders, medical experts and public health officials have worked to the point of exhaustion to provide accurate information about COVID-19 and to save people’s lives. In many cases, they have put their own lives on the line. Unfortunately, their efforts have been partially nullified by those who spread and believe misinformation.
As of today, more than 350,000 Americans have died from the COVID-19 and by the end of February, if not sooner, more Americans will have died from COVID-19 than were killed in World War II. That is, indeed, a tragedy since many of those lives could have been saved if misinformation did not abound.