Misinformation on the Rise as Coronavirus Spreads in US
A senior Trump administration official told Bloomberg News there's an ongoing effort to stop the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus that is creating public panic. The virus has infected about 3,900 Americans and killed close to 70.
The National Security Council is warning people about fake rumors regarding a national quarantine to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
The NSC tweeted Sunday night, "Text message rumors of a national quarantine are FAKE. There is no national lockdown."
However, spreading misinformation is human nature according to Dr. Brian G. Southwell, Program Director of Science in the Public Sphere at RTI International, an independent, nonprofit research institute.
“We’re all vulnerable to misinformation, even beyond this situation. Psychology research tells us that people tend to accept information at face value, and it’s really only after that, that they decide if it’s true or false,” Southwell told 104.7 WONK FM. “We also know that people look for answers to their questions, and people have a lot of questions right now, given the uncertainty. That is something that is just basic to humanity and I think we all need to be more empathetic with each other.”
He says this is not a new problem, “It’s also the case that our information environment is not air tight, especially online and misinformation can appear on our screens in part because we don’t censure it from appearing.”
With estimates the virus could last into the summer months, people are looking for a quick fix.
“Some of the myths that are circulating around are using sesame oil on your skin as a way to prevent the transmission [of coronavirus] for example, or breathing in smoke from fire, other things like that are circulating, ways people are looking [for] quick remedies, when in fact, there is credible information from what we’re doing in terms of social distancing and washing our hands that CDC and institutions like that are advising,” Southwell says.
The danger with the spread of misinformation can inhibit the efforts to slow the spread of covid-19.
Southwell says, “The problem is that people might look for a quick fix and ignore or not pay attention to some of the official information that’s being recommended, and that can be a problem. It can be a distraction, we can all lose time in terms of some of these efforts that we could have been taking that could help reduce transmission.”
One misunderstanding surrounding the virus us that it is a completely new.
Dr. Pia MacDonald, the Senior Director for applied public health research at RTI, says we've seen coronavirus before.
“Many of us don’t realize we’ve seen coronavirus before, but [it] causes 10 -30 percent of all common colds in the United States on a normal basis," MacDonald told 104.7 WONK FM. “We’ve also seen two other versions of coronavirus that have been fatal to humans. The first one we saw in 2002, and that was the emergence of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS …next we saw approximately 10 years later the emergence of the Middle East Syndrome or MERS.”
As in the case with its past strains, a Texas genetic engineering company is working on a possible vaccine. Houston-based Greffex says their researchers use a genetic adenovirus-based platform that enables them to create the vaccine quickly. Greffex produced a vaccine for MERS, and they are basing the new vaccine on that research.
The company needs government funding for animal testing, and then will need FDA approval to conduct human trials, which could take up to a year and a half to obtain.