COVID-19 disinformation: I was wrong

Public Relations Chair
Mon Nov 30, 2020

I, Daniel Marten, was frequently wrong about COVID-19 in early 2020. Then again, so was the television news, the internet news, and just about everybody else, but still. To the best of my knowledge, I never shared disinformation through print, but it’s important to talk about what we have been wrong about in private, with family, on the internet, and so on.

#1: “Young people will be fine” — March 2020
As it turns out, not all young people are turning out fine. Young people — see: traditionally college-aged folks — are making up a growing percentage of those getting the virus today. Further, “long haul” COVID-19 is being observed in younger patients, where the acute symptoms like fever and shortness of breath leave normally, but chronic fatigue and chronic pain linger. Younger Americans are just not untouchable the way that the initial data from China showed, likely for some very valid reasons. In China, the COVID-19 outbreak started in around late November 2019 in China, and they reported their first day without community transmission on March 19, 2020 after a severe but effective lockdown of around four months. Conversely, COVID-19 lockdowns began in the middle of March, 2020 in the United States, and the restrictions are continuing eight months later into late November, 2020. Their young folks just weren’t going during the four months the way that United States adolescents have been during the last eight months — either partying, working in-person, schooling, or other interactions that a robust federal lockdown response could have avoided — so it tracks that their case numbers for young people would be incredibly low. It is important to not take this as proof that young folks are immune, though, which they are absolutely not. Similar arguments surrounding young people frivolously getting COVID-19 also ignores the chance that they could spread it to more vulnerable friends, family members, or pass it on to retail or food service workers they interact with. This ableist argument also ignores young people and college students who may be immunocompromised and have a significantly more difficult experience with the virus, as well as ignoring those who have died; as of the date of writing on November 28, 2020, the United States is reporting 428 COVID-19 deaths from those aged 15 to 24.

#2: “It’s probably going to get everybody sick at some point, so I guess the only thing we can do is slow the spread and flatten the curve” — April 2020
There is no reason to believe that everybody will get COVID-19 or that contracting it is an inevitability. During the 1918 Spanish Influenza outbreak — with a virus similar to COVID-19 — which killed 50 million worldwide and 675 thousand in the United States, which had populations of approximately 1.8 billion and 100 million, respectively, only 28 percent to 33 percent of people worldwide became infected with the virus. 

A similar argument, though one which even I knew not to parrot, is that of herd immunity, which argues that if enough people get infected with the virus, the built-up immunity will keep those who have not gotten the virus yet safe. However, herd immunity can only be reached with over ⅔ of the population developing immunity; in a recent blood antibody and immunity study out of Spain — a country as hard hit by COVID-19 as any in Europe — reported that at or under 10 percent of the population was ever infected by COVID-19, depending on where they sampled. Even in countries hit hard by the virus, they are far off from herd immunity. Even viruses like the 1918 Spanish Influenza virus were not prevalent to infect enough people to build herd immunity. This specific study is from The Lancet and was published online on July 6, 2020. 

#3: “It’s just not going to be a big deal” — February 2020
As it turns out, this is a big deal. I was vocally ignorant about believing this would turn out just like Zika or Ebola or the H1N1 Swine Flu — which actually turned out to be major problems in developing countries and a number of marginalized populations — and eventually fade out of the public mind. This and similar deflections were usually born of discomfort and not wanting to face difficult facts to make the person speaking, which was me multiple times, feel a little bit more at ease. However, almost eight months into this pandemic in the United States and over one year worldwide, the time has long passed to stop this ignorance and get this virus and related misinformation under control.



Appears in
2020 - Fall - Issue 11