COVID-19 threat remains -- as does the misinformation associated with it
When COVID-19 hit Illinois this winter, perhaps we all felt a little removed. Most of us did not know anyone who had battled the virus at that point, and we nurtured hope that life would return to "normal" sometime soon.
Flash forward more than four months, and we've all become far better acquainted with the threat COVID-19 poses and the toll it's taken.
Some have suffered through it. Others have watched helplessly while quarantined relatives and friends battled the symptoms. And still others have attended Zoom funerals for loved ones who died alone in ICU units and were buried without those closest to them able to grieve graveside.
Yet, there are those who still laugh off the virus or try to pass it off as just another seasonal flu bug -- despite a disturbing uptick in numbers in hot spots across the nation.
We've all seen the rantings on social media. And maybe you've scrolled past a meme posted by friends that spelled out numbers comparing COVID-19 to other outbreaks, not sure whether -- or how -- to respond.
That's why recent items in Bob Oswald's Facts Matter column have struck home for us. Earlier this month, Oswald referred to a meme making the rounds on Facebook that claimed, "Only 56 coronavirus deaths a day was enough to collapse the world economy, even though thousands of people die daily from tuberculosis, hepatitis B, and other diseases."
The post includes a bar chart listing "Disease deaths per day worldwide," and showing how COVID-19 numbers are dwarfed by other diseases, including tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS . But, Oswald writes, "the 56-death total for COVID-19 was cherry-picked from a time when deaths from the virus were low." Small type on the bottom of the chart says the data is "correct as of March 9, 2020." Even then it was wrong: On March 9, the daily average of coronavirus deaths was 130, not 56, PolitiFact said.
And that's not the only post seeking to downplay the threat using outdated numbers or old photos.
So what is a responsible person to do?
Don't share what you cannot verify with a reputable source. Turn to responsible news sources and health organizations, not memes, to get and share information about COVID-19.
Remember that information and advice can change as researchers learn more.
Acknowledge that while mistakes can happen with regard to some deaths wrongly attributed to COVID-19, those errors in no way diminish the still-massive, still-tragic toll. Plus, some experts say COVID-19 deaths are likely underreported.
COVID-19 has claimed the lives of more than 145,000 people in the U.S. Our own state has lost more than 7,000 in just a few months. Distorting -- or dismissing -- those numbers does nothing to protect people. In fact, it encourages them to behave in ways that put everyone they come in contact with at higher risk. Plus, it brings pain to those who've lost someone to the pandemic.
Yes, most people who get the virus will survive. But no one wants a loved one to be among those who do not.
This virus is still very much a threat. And so is the misinformation that has followed in its wake.