Something appears to be outpacing the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus: the fear of contracting it, whether well-founded or not. It seems to be spreading faster than the disease itself and is now an additional plague — one that isn’t getting nearly the attention it deserves.
Within this fear can be found a sad commentary on human nature and a legion of folks out there who spread false information during this growing health crisis, either as a form of sport or as profiteers.
Just consider what is happening with the compulsion to buy surgical masks. For some time now, health officials around the world have been imploring the public to stop buying these masks if they are in good health. Exceptions would be for those who are giving care for someone who is ill, experiencing symptoms or being investigated for having the virus. Such requests have not stopped people from continuing to stock up.
It has gotten so bad that U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams took to Twitter last weekend to warn that a run on the masks could risk a harmful shortage for public health professionals. He emphatically warned that this so-called protective measure will not help against the spread of the coronavirus but rather take away important resources from health care professionals who need them.
Such warnings of a shortage just seem to fan the flames. The idea of scarcity is a well-known motivator for generating retail sales. Keep in mind that this “product” is easily manufactured and relatively inexpensive. At least they were. According to The New York Times, recent sellers on Amazon have been advertising masks for a minimum of $10 each.
One seller advertised 160 masks for $800 (a deal that was no longer available as of last Saturday), according to The New York Times. A surge in demand “has led to price gouging and counterfeit products,” the Times goes on to report.
Some enterprises have been participating in the spread of false information by passively allowing it to continue without comment, thereby silently stoking actions from which they might financially benefit.
In one example reported by the Associated Press, there is widespread chatter on social media that colloidal silver products can help prevent or protect against the new coronavirus. According to officials with the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, silver solution has no known benefits in the body when it is ingested and can cause serious side effects.
As pointed out in a recent Time magazine story, many cleaning products advertise their ability to kill nearly all bacteria and viruses that cause disease, including coronaviruses.
What is not mentioned is that the term “coronavirus” refers to a large family of a common virus that infects humans, including the common cold. They have never been tested against this specific virus.
That said, many experts do not recommend anything beyond routine cleaning in typical households to ward off COVID-19 while, simultaneously, retailers aren’t exactly discouraging customers from loading up on products, as retailers report certain supplies running low.
Some false information seems to appear merely for the sake of being misleading. According to the Associated Press, a widely circulated video on Facebook appeared in January of a man on a train in China vomiting blood and was presented as proof that this is a symptom of the new coronavirus. In fact, the video was taken a year earlier, and the man shown was a victim of liver cancer.
Also highlighted in the Associated Press story was a social media “report” by a man in a lab coat, holding up two test tubes of blood, falsely stating that he had proven that coronavirus changes the color of human blood. The creator of the video later said it was meant as satire.
In many respects, the way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is with the same techniques promoted and used to prevent other viruses.
Start by properly and frequently washing your hands with soap and water and being mindful of touching your face.
As recently pointed out by NPR, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that hand washing can prevent 1 in 5 respiratory infections such as colds and the flu and can also be effective against this new coronavirus.
Washing your hands regularly is a simple but effective way to reduce the odds of getting sick. This entails scrubbing your wet hands with soap for at least 20 seconds and then rinsing them with running water. Using a hand sanitizer made with at least 60 percent alcohol would be a secondary option.
According to NPR, of an estimated 30 million flu cases in the U.S. this year, 6 million of those infections could be prevented if everyone were more diligent about hand-washing.
As Dr. Rick Martinello, medical director for infection prevention at the Yale New Haven Health System tells Time magazine, you don’t need to go overboard. Keep your hands clean; keep your distance from sick people; and unless you are already infected, remember face masks will not help you. But if you are infected, masks can help prevent the spread of a virus.
The key to maintaining health in these uncertain times begins with knowledge. As things develop, get your information from trusted, credible sources.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness.