- The latest coronavirus update from White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci includes a message for conspiracy theorists and truthers who dismiss the COVID-19 virus as “trivial” or no worse than the flu.
- How could the virus by trivial, Dr. Fauci asked during a fireside chat this week, when it has killed more than 1 million people around the world and more than 213,000 in the US alone?
- This comment calls to mind the results of a study from Cornell researchers who said earlier this month that President Trump is far and away the biggest single source of coronavirus misinformation that they’ve found.
The COVID-19 virus has almost no comparison in most of our lifetimes when it comes to the speed with which it moves across the planet, leaving death and terrified populations in its wake. There is, however, one particular phenomenon spreading in tandem with the virus that, while not similarly deadly to its victims, claims causalities in its own way — and moves with almost uncontrollable rapidity, thanks to humanity being so connected via the digital grid.
We’re referring, of course, to the prevalence of misinformation, rumor, and dangerous myths connected to the coronavirus pandemic, things that even President Trump himself has been found to promulgate. I recently watched the staggeringly powerful new coronavirus documentary 76 Days — covering the 76 days that the coronavirus epicenter of Wuhan, in China, was tightly locked down earlier this year — and there was once particular dystopian-looking scene, where you see rows of what look to be apartments, the streets are abandoned, and a few people are milling about here and there. Workers in hazmat-like PPE suits look to be fumigating apartments and other spaces, while over a loudspeaker in the neighborhood a voice can be heard announcing, to no one in particular: “Stay home unless absolutely necessary. Strictly follow regulations and rules. Don’t fabricate, believe, or spread rumors.” Rumors and misinformation, in fact, also factored into a recent coronavirus update shared by White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci.
During a 45-minute fireside chat in which he took questions from UC Berkeley students, faculty, and staff, Fauci addressed a number of topics, like how colleges can safely reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Fauci also reiterated points that he’s made often, in other settings and at other venues — namely, that he thinks we’ll start to see some semblance of normality in our lives again especially by the fall of 2021 as long as a successful vaccine has arrived before then and people adhere to basic coronavirus protection measures like social distancing and wearing face masks.
At one point, Dr. Fauci was asked during the chat about the effect of conspiracy theories on the ability of public health leaders to fight the spread of the virus. Remember, it was just a few days ago that researchers from Cornell released the findings of a study after having looked at more than 38 million coronavirus news articles, found that more than 1.1 million contained misinformation — and that President Trump is the “single largest driver” of that misinformation.
In light of that, Fauci posed the following rhetorical question: “The examples of people not wanting to wear masks, or not believing that if you just go in a crowd you’re not going to get infected or if you do get infected it’s going to be meaningless because it’s a trivial outbreak — well, how could it be a trivial outbreak if it’s already killed 210,000 people in the United States and a million people worldwide?”
It’s a great point and especially worth keeping in mind when coming across misleading and outright wrong social media posts from people including the president, who earlier this week posted on Facebook that COVID-19 is less lethal than the annual flu. Facebook removed that post, for obvious reasons.
Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.