By Jasmine Ryu Won Kang
Amidst global pandemics, there are often numerous public myths, largely unsupported by concrete data, that tend to be circulated; the present situation with COVID-19 is no exception. During such times, when information seems to be changing daily and the body of knowledge concerning the illness is rapidly growing, it is of paramount importance to question the validity of claims surrounding COVID-19 and refrain from drawing unsubstantiated conclusions.
Here are some of the most common public opinions regarding the virus that have been debunked by health experts.
“The coronavirus is not dangerous because of its low mortality rate.”
Indeed, the mortality rate of COVID-19 is low, relative to other pandemics in recent history such as MERS and Ebola. However, simply observing the mortality rate does not give a full picture of the current and potential impact of the virus.
Even the mortality rate – quoted to be 3.4% by the World Health Organization as of March 5 – represents an average, and it can vary significantly by age, country, and the existence of immunocompromising conditions. According to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, the mortality is 14.8% in people above the age of 80, while it is 0.2% in people of ages 10 to 19.
Another point of consideration is the transmissibility of the disease. One method to measure this is the R0 value – the number of people likely to be infected by a single sick person. For COVID-19, this value falls between 2 and 2.5, which the World Health Organization deems “relatively high.”
“COVID-19 is just like the flu.”
Although there exists overlap in the symptoms brought on by both diseases, there are also fundamental differences between the two. In contrast with the seasonal flu, there is no vaccine, treatment, or immunity found in COVID-19. As it is a novel virus, COVID-19 presents an entirely new set of challenges, including, of course, the development of antibiotics and medicines that could treat it.
Inherent uncertainty exists in the calculation of mortality rates of infectious diseases. However, it is generally agreed upon that COVID-19 is far more deadly than the flu, which has an average mortality rate of about 0.1%.
“Using a face mask can stop coronavirus transmission.”
While the usage of face masks is crucial for health and social care workers taking care of patients, they are by no means a fool-proof solution to preventing the contraction of coronavirus. According to the World Health Organization, masks are “effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap water.”
Masks effectively capture droplets, but usually cannot stop the entering of aerosols, or tiny viral particles. The virus may also transmit through parts of the face not covered by the mask, such as the eyes.
“There are some vitamins and supplements you can take to protect yourself from COVID-19.”
Some common examples include taking vitamin C, using essential oils, or consuming alcohol. None of these measures show definitive proof of increasing immunity against the virus. As stated earlier, there is currently no vaccine or cure for COVID-19. Even the antibiotics that were used to cure SARS, a related strain of the virus, have failed to improve the health of those infected with COVID-19.
“People of Asian descent are more likely to contract coronavirus.”
Many communities around the world have seen a marked rise in xenophobia and anti-Asian behaviour during the coronavirus pandemic, despite the statements made by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that “diseases can make anyone sick, regardless of their race or ethnicity.” Other experts in the field seem to agree, including Dr. Lankowicz, Regional Chief Medical Officer at St. Joseph Health Systems, who similarly states that there are “no racial disparities regarding who gets coronavirus and who is protected.”