As I work on this week’s writing prompt, I want to unravel the fact and fiction of what we know about COVID-19. Misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 have been running rampant online. And it’s easy to get caught up in a daily or weekly sea of articles and memes and stats and quibbles, especially when things are so emotionally charged. So, before I start writing my own journal entry about my COVID-19 year this week, I want to take a closer look at what I think I know about COVID-19.

When tensions are high and peoples’ health, lives, and livelihoods are at risk, some people start panicking while others seem to downplay relevant concerns a little too much and become reckless or apathetic toward other humans. I hold the view that in times like these, when a pandemic is occurring, the truth of the matter and what matters can be found somewhere in the middle of the extremes we come across.

Based on the evidence and reliable sources I’ve come across, here are the basics of what I know about COVID-19:

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, a new coronavirus discovered in 2019. The virus is thought to spread mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Some people who are infected may not have symptoms. For people who have symptoms, illness can range from mild to severe. Adults 65 years and older and people of any age with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for severe illness.

  • Wearing a mask in public slows the spread of COVID-19.
  • Staying home and avoiding crowded public spaces or gatherings as much as possible helps slow the spread of COVID-19.
  • Practicing social distancing when in public or at gatherings helps slow the spread of COVID-19.
  • Washing hands regularly and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces helps slow the spread of COVD-19.
  • Widely used COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.
  • There are groups of people who are at greater risk of getting COVID-19, while most people who have contracted the virus tend to experience more mild cases. However, nearly 2.8 million people have died worldwide from COVID-19 at the time this post was published.
  • Reported cases of COVID-19 are rising again in certain areas of the globe.

To test yourself on what you think you know about COVID-19, take this very basic quiz.

I am getting my facts about COVID-19 from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I would also recommend looking at the CDC’s Myths and Facts about COVID-19 Vaccines page and the WHO’s Fact or Fiction page. I see no reason why so many people from these reputable and important organizations, who have a vested interest in the health and safety of so many humans on the planet, would lie about what they know or cause unnecessary panic or inconveniences. And the fact that I even feel compelled to type that last sentence out is disturbing too. But *sigh* that is where we are…

I must admit, at first I thought it was a silly or mundane exercise to look into and type out all the facts of COVID-19, especially over a year after it was declared a pandemic. I mean, people know these things already, right? The answer to that question, sadly, is no. And sadly, many people don’t seem to think the information above matters. But now that I have typed out these facts about COVID-19, I do actually find myself feeling more confident in what is fact and what is not. And it has allowed me to get perspective on how out-of-control things were for a while. Or perhaps still are 😬

After a few minutes of somewhat superficial research online, I was reminded of how right I was to get a basic list of facts about COVID-19 together.

Here are just a few outrageous stories (or fictions) about COVID-19 that were, and possibly still are, circling around online:

  • Bill Gates is responsible. In reality, Gates spent millions to help China and African nations fight previous coronavirus outbreaks and helped fund vaccine and drug programs.
  • A woman seen in a viral photo eating bat soup is the source of the outbreak. The photo in question wasn’t even taken in China, so … no.
  • The Chinese created a weaponized version of coronavirus and lost control of it. Not only is there no proof of this, if someone wanted to weaponize a virus, they would probably pick one with a higher fatality rate.
  • The best way to avoid the virus is to avoid Chinese people. This is one of the more outright racist rumors spreading in Australia, where someone made up a report from the country’s Bureau of Diseasology, which doesn’t exist.
  • Drinking bleach keeps the virus away. Nope, nope, nope. This seriously dangerous advice was circulated by backers of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Doing this can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, liver failure, and death.
  • Coronavirus will cause the zombie apocalypse. This one is based on the realization that the logo of a biotech lab in China is strangely similar to one used by the bad guys of the popular video game “Resident Evil” that creates weird zombie-like raccoons.
  • In Malaysia, where the spread of fake news has become something of an emergency (and has become a pandemic of sorts itself) rumors abound of infected mandarin oranges and cellphones.
  • You can catch the coronavirus off packages mailed from China. The CDC actually addressed this one. There is a “very low risk” of this happening, the agency says, and no confirmed reports of it.
  • You should get safety masks for your pets so they don’t catch the virus, too. While this myth has led to some pretty cute pictures, the World Health Organization says there is “no evidence” that your dog or cat can be infected with the new coronavirus.

The above list was copied from what was originally shared on WebMD .

And of course, we can’t forget about the equally outrageous stories circulating online about the COVID-19 vaccines.

“Long before the first needle pierced the skin to deliver Pfizer/BioNTech’s highly anticipated COVID-19 vaccine, social media was rife with speculation and fearmongering. Alongside pertinent questions about safety, efficacy, and the historic rapidity of the vaccine’s production were conspiracy theories: that the vaccine was unsafe, unhealthy, itself the product of a conspiracy. Some claimed that the vaccine would alter your DNA or give you the disease itself. Others stated that the vaccine contained a microchip, perhaps placed there by Bill Gates, that linked to cell towers via 5G technology to allow for population surveillance. These narratives are persistent and are intruding on the real world: In Wisconsin, a pharmacist purposely sabotaged 57 vials over the holidays because he thought the vaccine would change people’s DNA.

Despite their elaborate nature and novelty, I find these narratives thoroughly familiar.

I’ve spent my career as a folklorist studying disease narratives: the rumors, legends, gossip, and jokes that circulate informally during epidemics and pandemics. These narratives are recycled from one epidemic to the next, and they maintain certain features over time, even as specific details vary to fit a new disease or context, and channel contemporary preoccupations.”

The Atlantic, “The Utter Familiarity of Even the Strangest Vaccine Conspiracy Theories” by Jon D. Lee

How can this happen? How can such outrageous rumors and stories circulate? Especially when lives and livelihoods are at stake? Well, let’s think of the folklore mentioned in the passage shared above, folklore in the twenty-first century, and how stories spread.

“But with private messages and group chats, where friends and family members might discuss everything from gossip to more serious matters, successful moderation of health crisis fear-mongering can seem impossible.

The rumors on messaging apps sometimes make their way offline like they’re part of a game of telephone. A link shared in one group can easily be passed along by one of its members to another group, and another, until there are numerous people who don’t even use WhatsApp who stopped going to that restaurant in Chinatown where they’re sure a cook had coronavirus.

The sourcing for these stories is usually non-existent — that’s how rumors work — but their ramifications are heavy. East Asian-owned businesses are losing customers as a result, according to recent reports from the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. That’s in large part due to xenophobia surrounding the coronavirus. But in some cases, it’s because patrons of these businesses are themselves spreading stories that aren’t based in fact.

Vox, “How the coronavirus rumor mill can thrive in private group chats” by  Allegra Frank and Daniel Markus

So, at the end of the day, typing out the above list of basic facts about COVID-19 doesn’t seem so silly at all. Especially if you’re interested in getting the facts straight when you Write a Journal Entry About Your COVID-19 Year.


Want to start or join a dialogue about this post or this week’s writing prompt? Are you working on a draft for this week’s writing prompt and want to chat about it? Join the Forum for Daily Drafts and Dialogues Writers. Or tag me @kecreighton on social: FacebookTwitterInstagram, or Medium

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