Study: Bogus COVID-19 info on social media may have sent thousands to hospitals

Aug 17, 2020, 12:44 PM
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There’s another epidemic out there, an epidemic of false COVID-19 information. There’s much being spread on social media, and the bogus information isn’t innocent. A recent study looked at the number of people who have actually tried to follow the fake advice and suffered because of it.

Mercer Island MD Dr. Gordon Cohen joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss some of the false COVID-19 info on social media.

“There was actually a study that was published this past week in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. What’s interesting is that they had an estimate that about 5,800 people were admitted to the hospital as a result of false information on social media and about 800 people may have died around the world because of coronavirus-related misinformation in just the first three months of this year,” he said.

“It shows how a lack of education can really be dangerous, and spreading false information just feeds into that.”

Dr. Cohen went through some of the false rumors on social media, like that masks can kill people due to too much carbon dioxide intake, and the suggestion that cloth masks don’t actually protect you as particles can get through. Neither are true.

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Masks would have to be airtight to pose any kind of carbon dioxide threat. “The fact of the matter is, if it were true, there’d be tons of dead surgeons because surgeons have been wearing masks forever to do surgery,” he said.

Regarding cloth masks, they’re by no means perfect, but do absolutely help protect people.

“I think a good visual for this is as follows: If you think of a cheesecloth as equivalent to a mask and you think of a bunch of poppy seeds as the viral particles, sure, if you pour dry poppy seeds onto a cheesecloth, the viral particles will go through. But that’s not how the virus gets transmitted. We’re not shooting little missiles of virus particles out into the environment,” he said.

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“Rather, it’s wrapped up in moisture. So imagine taking those poppy seeds and mixing with yogurt and then putting them on top of the cheesecloth. And, as you can imagine, the yogurt won’t go through or it will go through very, very slowly. But it won’t go any distance, and neither will the poppy seeds.”

Furthermore, there have been plenty of conspiracies around vaccines, and what worries Dr. Cohen is that many people are, unfortunately, already reluctant to take it when it does finally appear, and false rumors about vaccines don’t help that.

“I think it’s this kind of stuff, false stories that are posted on social media, that lead to it because people think that it’s a conspiracy. They’re skeptical about vaccines in the first place. They think that this whole coronavirus pandemic is a conspiracy by multiple governments and multiple drug companies and so forth. So, yeah, I’m extremely concerned,” he said.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Study: Bogus COVID-19 info on social media may have sent thousands to hospitals