Coronavirus: Fact or Myth

What should people know about coronavirus?/ Drawing by TuAnh Dam for NY City Lens

What should people know about coronavirus?/ Drawing by TuAnh Dam for NY City Lens

By Currie Engel and TuAnh Dam

 As New Yorkers know all too well, Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has hit the city. Now, there are more than 923 cases, as of March 17th in the city, and 204,255 cases around the world. 

As the virus spreads, rumors spread too. Here are some common misconceptions about the virus and the ways it could impact your life. 

It’s just the flu

It’s not. 

Although health officials don’t know the precise mortality rate – coronavirus could be underreported because of early problems with testing here in the United States, we don’t know how many people have already contracted the disease and how many have only had mild symptoms – almost all of them agree it is more deadly than the flu. According to the WorldHealthOrganization, coronavirus has a mortality rate of 4 percent.

Ordinary flu and coronavirus could have similar symptoms—fever and dry cough, for example —but the biggest difference is in the lungs. Coronavirus patients often experience a shortness of breath, according to the Center for Disease Control, that’s noticeably absent in flu patients. An estimated 80 percent of those who get the virus experience only mild symptoms. But COVID-19 can be deadly because it spreads from the throat to the lungs where it causes inflammation and can lead to pneumonia and an infection.

People over age 60 or with preexisting medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or asthma are at higher risk of experiencing severe symptoms and dying from the virus.


Do we need to wear masks?

The answer is no. Most masks that you’ve seen people walking down the street wearing —the blue disposable ones—won’t protect you against viruses, according to Susan Michaels-Strasser, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Medical Center. Particles, she said,  will still be able to enter because the masks are loose on the sides and on top. If you do decide to wear a mask, it needs to be a tight fitting N95 mask.  


Does hand sanitizer have the same effect as washing hands?

No. Hand washing with soap and water is the most effective method. Period.  But if you do not (or are not able to) wash your hands, the CDC recommends using hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. However, it also suggests that even with high alcohol proof, hand sanitizers may not be as effective in killing germs as washing, even if they do reduce their growth. 

 Your best bet though is washing your hands for 20 seconds—singing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice is the trick—and most importantly, remember to scrub your finger tips, thumbs, palms, top side of your hands, and in between your fingers! 

 Check out this helpful video from The New York Times for hand-washing inspiration. 


Young people aren’t at risk and CAN continue on as usual.

Definitely not TRUE. Young people should not carry on as usual. 

 Although the mortality numbers are clearly skewed towards the older population, there have been instances of perfectly healthy younger people falling into critical condition and even dying from COVID-19.

 More importantly, though, even if you are experiencing only mild symptoms or have no symptoms at all, you can still be a carrier of the virus. Research from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that up to 86 percent of transmissions in China weren’t discovered until after Wuhan enacted a travel ban, and while these people were only half as contagious, they were responsible for 66.6 percent of transmissions. This is something public health officials are calling “stealth transmission”— where the infected person does not know they carry the virus and infects others. 

Your exposure to others could cause community spread to more vulnerable populations. Just because you feel okay doesn’t mean you won’t infect someone whose results could be more dire.

 Check out this Washington Post graphic on how community spread works.  


Just get the flu shot

 Well yes, but here’s why it’s important. 

There’s no COVID-19 vaccine yet so the flu shot won’t protect you from coronavirus.  The flu shot is designed to protect you from the seasonal flu, but doctors and public health officials have been encouraging people to get a flu shot so that they can avoid getting the flu and thus confusing flu symptoms with the coronavirus. With limited hospital and testing capacity, confusion over the flu vs. coronavirus takes up valuable resources, time, and space.


“Insert home-remedy here” is the cure

 Whatever internet cure you saw—and there’s a lot floating out there—probably won’t protect or cure coronavirus. 

 Garlic, supplements, drinking extra water, and even bleach—there is no evidence that any of them protect against COVID-19. (Avoid gargling bleach though; that’s actually really bad!). The best thing to do if you have coronavirus is to contact a doctor for advice. They’ll let you know what to do next. Don’t just go to a doctor or an ER. 

Dr. Melanie Bernitz, associate vice president and medical director of Columbia Health, emailed community members advising on how to proceed. 

“If your symptoms are mild, you do not need to seek medical care,” she wrote. “If you are a member of a higher risk group or your symptoms are severe, such as difficulty breathing, contact your primary care provider or go to the emergency room (many request that you call first).”


The coronavirus will disappear once the weather gets warmer

 The answer is:  not necessarily.

 Because it is a relatively new virus, scientists are not entirely sure how the virus will act in warmer temperatures. Some experts suggest it may go dormant but might not necessarily fully disappear in the coming months.

Dr. Faheem Younus, the chief of infectious diseases at the University of Maryland UCH, debunked several coronavirus myths on Twitter. He said that previous pandemics didn’t follow weather patterns necessarily and that the Southern hemisphere is entering winter soon.

The “virus is global,” Younus said. 

The truth is scientists and doctors don’t yet know what the future holds. Coronavirus is new and we’re all trying to learn as much as possible. The thing we do know for sure? Everyone should wash their hands. And then probably wash them again.


 “My friend just said that…[fill in NYC shut down gossip here]”

Unless Mayor Bill de Blasio or Governor Andrew Cuomo personally tells you about a plan they’re putting into action, do not spread misinformation.

It is understandable that in this state of emergency, everyone is trying to figure out what is going on. However, receiving third or fourth-hand information from someone’s brother’s friend who is in the CDC task force is not a valid source.

Here are some sources you can regularly check to get up-to-date information about breaking policy rules and actions in the city:

NYPD Twitter account

MTA Twitter account

Mayor Bill de Blasio Twitter account