August 12, 2020

Stevens County Times

Your spot for community news in Stevens County, Minnesota

America’s Next Rising Pandemic: Misinformation

Originally printed in the St. Cloud Times
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St. Cloud Times

America is seemingly being attacked from all sides. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic downturn and surge in unemployment and a national reckoning with centuries of racial injustice, there is barely a wall to have our backs against. 

And yet, because the year 2020 has zero quit, another disease is spreading across America: misinformation. 

An infodemic – as aptly called by the World Health Organization – is spreading like a virus on social media.

False claims, specifically around the effectiveness of preventative measures like wearing face masks, spread from person to person quickly if we don’t take the time to fact check and confirm. 

A mask is intended to trap droplets that are released when the wearer talks, coughs or sneezes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asking everyone to wear a mask can help reduce the spread of the virus by people who have COVID-19 but don’t realize it. 

According to the CDC, face coverings provide source control – that is, they help prevent the person wearing the mask from spreading COVID-19 to others. The main protection individuals gain from masking occurs when others in their communities also wear face coverings. 

While COVID-19 is still relatively new and not everything is known about the infection, we do know there are a few simple steps we can take to try to limit its spread: 

Stay home if you feel sick, wash your hands regularly, practice social distancing and wear masks when inside and when social distancing is not possible. 

And no, you won’t harm yourself by wearing a mask – as many false social media posts are claiming. We know there are some people who are negatively impacted by wearing one (and many mask mandates have made exemptions for people with health conditions that are adverse to mask-wearing). 

As we have said in previous weeks’ editorials, these are simple steps proven to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Adhering to them shows you care about the health of your fellow Americans. 

If wearing a mask is such a big deal, why didn’t we mandate them right away? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says health officials didn’t know the extent to which people with COVID-19 could spread the virus before symptoms appeared, or that people could be positive for COVID-19 while not displaying any symptoms. 

And again, please don’t get sucked into some useless debate about how they do or don’t make a political statement. The recent flood of conspiracy theories, hoaxes and falsehoods can mislead or even harm people if they are taken for truth. 

The director of the CDC said earlier this week the coronavirus surge could be controlled in 4-6 weeks if people were disciplined about wearing masks. 

But others – non medical professionals, pundits and conspiracy theorists – are determined to spread misinformation claiming otherwise faster than the virus. 

Take the time to fact check information and don’t spread lies that can prove to be just as deadly as a virus. 

And please, wash your hands and just wear the mask.