Coronavirus Fake News: Fact Checking COVID-19 Pandemic Hoaxes and Misinformation Online

Fake news stories have been circulating around the Internet pointing people to "cures" for the new coronavirus, sharing advice and faking government announcements. The COVID-19 disease is caused by a virus named SARS-CoV-2 which is part of the broad coronavirus family of pathogens.

At the time of writing, there have been 38 deaths linked to COVID-19 in the U.S. out of 1,323 confirmed cases, with eight recoveries, according to Johns Hopkins University, as shown in the graphic below provided by Statista.

Statista Map Coronavirus March 12, 2020
This chart shows the number of confirmed cases and deaths from coronavirus in the United States as of March 12 at 6 a.m

To help readers navigate the murky waters of misinformation, Newsweek has rounded up some of the stories that are going viral that are not factually accurate.

False: "There is a cure for coronavirus"

Across the web, stories and social media posts are being shared regarding a cure for COVID-19 ranging from homemade recipes and alcohol to vaccines and even sexual intercourse. However, there is currently no "cure" for coronavirus and there most likely won't be one for a while based on how vaccines are made.

The spread of misinformation of a cure has resulted in further deaths. In Iran, reports emerged that at least 44 people died from alcohol poisoning after drinking bootleg alcohol to cure coronavirus, according to Associated Press. The rumor also spread through Indian social media, according to NDTV, as well as iterations claiming that spraying alcohol or chlorine can prevent the virus from infecting or entering the body.

The rumors have been debunked by the World Health Organization (WHO). According to the organization, spraying alcohol or chlorine on the body will not kill viruses that have already entered it and that spraying such substances can be harmful to clothes or mucous membranes (i.e. eyes, mouth).

There have also been claims by a televangelist that a liquid, which costs $300, kills the coronavirus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it takes at least six months for manufacturers to produce large quantities for the influenza vaccine. This is due to viruses constantly mutating, requiring the vaccine to be reviewed every year and updated when needed. This is also done as a collaboration of over 100 national influenza centers in over 100 countries and WHO.

When the SARS epidemic hit in 2003—it was first reported in Asia in February 2003 and resulted in 810 deaths—it took a year for a vaccine to be released to the public, according to CNBC.

The development of a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus is underway, according to MarketWatch. Nine companies are currently working on a treatment for coronavirus for the U.S. including GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi. Further, according to Stat, manufacturers are skipping steps in the usual process to get a vaccine to market quicker. The outlet reports that biotech company, Moderna, has created a vaccine candidate at "record speed" with the recruitment for clinical trials starting in March 2020.

False: "Sanitizers Don't Help Against Coronavirus"

Posts have been shared on social media that hand sanitizer doesn't work against COVID-19, reasoning that because it is a virus, anti-bacterial hand sanitizer won't do anything. According to FactCheck.org, the rumor started on Twitter when a self-identified "scientist" posted their theory on March 1, 2020.

However, according to CDC, using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol is a suitable substitute if there is no soap and water available.

Readers can check Newsweek's guides on how to avoid coronavirus in the home, work and school.

False: "The government has mandated that workplaces close"

Posts have been circulating that the government has mandated that all workplaces will close for two weeks in an attempt to avoid the spread of COVID-19. One post says, "The Government have announced measures that all workplaces with 10 employees or more are to have paid mandatory leave to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus starting from March 6, 2020."

However, no such mandate has been made. According to FactCheck.org, the posts being shared are intended as a joke with a punchline awaiting users when they click the link to "read more."

Other posts also switch out the "government" reference to make the claim specific to Michigan, Florida, Alabama and other states.

States of emergency have been declared in some parts of the country, but this does not extend to forcing workplaces to close.

WHO Busts Coronavirus Myths

The World Health Organization has been battling misinformation itself, and below we have summarised some of the common myths that are circulating.

Myth: Cold weather and snow can kill the new coronavirus.

Fact: There is no evidence (so far) to suggest cold weather can kill the novel coronavirus or other diseases.

Myth: Warmer weather will kill off COVID-19 virus.

Fact: The coronavirus can be transmitted in all areas, including hot and humid climates, says WHO.

Myth: Taking a hot bath prevents COVID-19 virus.

Fact: Taking a hot bath will not prevent anyone from catching the COVID-19 virus as the normal body temperature remains around 36.5-37 degrees Celcius, regardless of the temperature of the bath or shower.

Myth: The new coronavirus can be transmitted through mosquito bites.

Fact: To date, there has been no information or evidence to suggest that the new coronavirus could be transmitted by mosquitoes, according to WHO. COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that spreads primarily through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose.

Myth: Hand dryers are effective in killing COVID-19.

Fact: Hand dryers are not effective in killing the new coronavirus.

Myth: An ultraviolet disinfection lamp can kill the new coronavirus.

Fact: UV lamps should not be used to sterilize hands or other areas of skin as UV radiation can cause skin irritation.

Myth: Thermal scanners can detect people with the new coronavirus.

Fact: While thermal scanners are effective in detecting people who have developed a fever, they cannot detect people who are infected with the COVID-19 virus, but are not yet sick with fever, according to WHO. This is because it takes between two and 10 days before people who are infected become sick and develop a fever.

Myth: Vaccines against pneumonia protect against the new coronavirus.

Fact: No. Vaccines against pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccine, do not provide protection against the new coronavirus, says WHO. COVID-19 needs its own vaccine which is still being researched.

Myth: Rinsing your nose with saline will help prevent a COVID-19 infection.

Fact: There is no evidence that regularly rinsing the nose with saline has protected people from infection with the new coronavirus.

Myth: Eating garlic can help prevent a coronavirus infection.

Fact: While it is a healthy food, there is no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people from the new coronavirus.

Myth: COVID-19 only affects the elderly.

Fact: People of all ages can be infected by the new coronavirus, but older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.

Myth: Antibiotics are effective in preventing and treating the new coronavirus.

Fact: Antibiotics do not work against viruses, only bacteria.

Coronavirus Fake News: Fact Checking COVID-19 Pandemic Hoaxes and Misinformation Online | U.S.