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COVID-19 Myths topping the charts this week

With all of these stories and links and videos, who do we trust and why?


Jo Snyder


The World Health Organization has called what we’re facing today an “infodemic”: “an over-abundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.


Let’s dig into some more myths and misconceptions rattling around in our heads and see what’s real, what hurts us, and what might not be worth your time. 


Myth #1 - It's only really bad if you're old or immunocompromised


One would hope by now this isn’t still a popular opinion, yet it still seems to linger. The idea even has one American lieutenant governor suggesting we sacrifice the old for the sake of the economy! 


While the Public Health Association of Canada states that those who are immunocompromised or over 65 are at risk of a more severe infection, that doesn’t mean that those in younger age brackets aren’t getting really sick and, in some cases, dying. 


The data in Canada shows people between the ages of 20-60 dominate the majority share of cases at 58 per cent. These testimonies from people in their early 20s in Edmonton should remind us that COVID-19 infection can get worse, and even fatal, at any age. 


Why this idea is so harmful


First, one could argue that it leads people to act carelessly because they feel invincible. In Vancouver as recent as last week, people were still flocking to the seawall and English Bay in crowds. B.C. also saw its largest increase in infections since March on April 22. 


Second, it devalues our seniors. These are people we love and care about. People who raised us! And Canada is experiencing a devastating divide in our pandemic here at home. It’s as if we have two pandemics: one in our long term care facilities and one for the rest of us, with close to half of our national death toll occurring in long-term care homes. A cavalier attitude toward this generational divide in which one age group suffers the most is inhumane and dismissive of people’s grief over the loss of their loved ones. 


Myth #2 - Washing groceries in lots of bleach kills COVID-19


Early advice went out suggesting people wash their groceries with a diluted bleach solution when they get home from the store to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The result, in some parts of the world, was increased poison centre phone calls. In one city in the U.S., a woman attempted to disinfect her produce in her kitchen sink by filling her sink with bleach, vinegar and hot water. A hospital visit ensued. 


Here’s the thing: bleach comes with health risks of its own. Bleach is an irritant, especially for your lungs if you’re spraying it or even inhaling its fumes. Why not skip it altogether? For you to catch COVID-19 from an apple you just bought from the store, someone infected with COVID-19 would have to sneeze directly on that apple and then you would have to eat it right away. The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control reminds us that COVID-19 hasn’t been proven to be transmitted from food in any way. 


What you can do to clean your food instead


Scrub your fruits and vegetables under cold, running water before eating them. Make sure your cooking surfaces are clean and disinfected before you cook and eat. But the best course of action is to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds when you get home from the store, before you cook, and again before you eat. 


If you want an entertaining read on the minutiae of using bleach, check out Rachel Miller’s thorough dissection


Myth #3 - Hot lemon water, gargling with salt water, drinking garlic-boiled water will cure the coronavirus


Nope, nope, and nope. What these things all have in common is a home remedy recipe for the common cold, but COVID-19? We all wish it were that easy. 


The hot lemon water is indeed similar to the idea that boosting your immune system with a ton of vitamin C will kill this virus. But Snopes uncovers the idea that a hot lemon water and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) drink will create an alkaline environment in your body, making it hard for the virus to thrive. The Associated Press debunks this myth saying that a virus doesn’t have its own pH level, so it can’t be tackled by adjusting your own. Skip the baking soda and enjoy a hot cup of lemon water just to relax instead. 


Snopes dives into this one too and succinctly debunks any ideas that gargling salt water will kill the virus because it’s incubating in your throat. Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious disease expert at the University of Pennsylvania, said gargling “won’t stop [the coronavirus] from getting into the lungs.” But it could soothe a sore throat. Again, a popular cold remedy misunderstood. 


The World Health Organization recognizes the antimicrobial properties of garlic, but the only thing drinking boiled garlic will help with is keeping others 6 feet away at all times. So, maybe you should drink it?


Stay up-to-date with our global myth-busters


The World Health Organization has created a bunch of shareable graphics on popular COVID-19 myths. 


Ryerson University has created an amazing collection of dashboards to keep track of myths dominating the internet in real-time. 


The Centre for International Governance Innovation talks to Angie Drobnic Holan about fact-checking the infodemic and whether fact-checking is enough.

Jo Snyder is a seasoned communications professional with expertise on the social determinants of health and health equity. Over her career, she's worked with think tanks, non-profits and big tech to deliver comms of all kinds.


This project has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada.

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