Separating Fact from Fiction about Covid-19

By Debo Ofsowitz

Covid-19 and the self-isolation it has imposed has seemed to trigger a rise in the sharing of misinformation as to both the causes and the treatment of one of the world’s deadliest pandemics. As a result of all the memes and rumors populating social media, even the news, and the devastation the virus is causing to families, not to mention the economy, it is more important than ever to separate fact from fiction. It would take a herculean task to  cover all of the misinformation in this article, so let us tackle three of the most important ones.

What’s in a name?

Why do we keep seeing coronavirus and COVID-19? And why is SARS being brought into the conversation?

Viruses and the diseases they cause often have different names. For example, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). With today’s medical technology a person can test positive for HIV, but if they follow the treatments available, they might never develop the disease AIDS. While they refer to the same condition, the words HIV and AIDS are not interchangeable.

Covid-19 is the actual the name of the disease caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, (also known as SARS-CoV2). We have all seen the now famous 3D representation of the coronavirus but that’s not how it looks under a microscope. When viewed in the two-dimensional world of a laboratory microscope, the virus appears as if you are looking at balls with a corona, a halo or crown, surrounding them. There are actually seven strains of the coronavirus identified by the WHO (World Health Organization) and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) including the now infamous MERS and SARS viruses. This virus, while being identified as SARS-CoV2 should NOT be referred to as SARS to avoid the confusion of it being mistaken with the previous SARS infections of the early 2000s (2002-2004).

The disease, COVID-19 was named by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV). Using the information that it is a coronavirus disease first discovered in 2019, the ICTV came up with the acronym COVID-19. To be very clear, the 19 refers to the fact that the virus was first discovered in 2019, not because it is the 19th version of the virus as some have been claiming.

What’s in a number?

Recently, a financial advisor told a group of people not to be scared at the crashing stock market. He said, yes, it appears like there is a high drop in the number of points. But the market has risen so high in the last decade that if you look at the overall percentage of the drop it is not so bad. At the time, he was speaking in early March, when the markets were at less than a 15% drop, which next to the crash of 2008, as compared by percentages, wasn’t so bad. You can use the same methodology to understand why Covid-19, when compared to the flu, is a significantly more dangerous disease.

People will often site the 2017-2018 flu death number of 61,000 as an example of why the flu is more dangerous, or at least, as dangerous, as COVID-19. However, when you weigh the number of deaths to the number of people who actually get infected with the flu it is a very different picture. Infection rates of the flu range from 39 million to 56 million annually with the death rates ranging from 24,000 to 62,000 annually. If we take the lowest number of infections (39 million) and the largest number of deaths (62,000) we are seeing only a 0.16% mortality rate, less than two tenths of one percent.

Now, let us look at COVID-19. Currently, as I write this piece, the United States is at about 1.2 million confirmed coronavirus infections. As of May 4, 2020, there have been 69,128 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. If you do the math, the mortality rate of those who contract the virus and then die from the virus is 5.76%, significantly greater than the less than 1% of the flu. It is this high percentage mortality that prompted many governments across the globe to enforce stay-at-home orders.

What can we do about it?

There are a lot of false cures and preventions circling around the internet these days. It is very important to understand that drinking bleach, inhaling disinfectants and standing outside in the sunlight will not cure COVID-19. In fact, the first two can injure and potentially kill you. Bleach and disinfectants work on surfaces, not inside the body. And while UV-C light can kill some viruses, this also works only on surfaces and not inside the body. The UV-C rays needed to kill viruses cannot penetrate the skin. Nor would we want it to. These are the same UV rays that cause sunburns, so exposure should be limited.

According to the CDC, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, everyone should:

  • Clean your hands often, either with soap and water for 20 seconds or a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay at home as much as possible.
  • Put distance between yourself and other people (at least 6 feet).
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
  • Cover a cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash (then wash your hands).
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces daily.

Yes, wearing masks can help, but as states such as Florida are easing the stay-at-home restrictions it is important to understand that masks only reduce your chances of inhaling the coronavirus, or of spreading it to others. The best ways to avoid infection are by avoiding large gatherings, only going out when it is essential and necessary to do so, washing your hands frequently, and washing them well (watch this handy video), and frequently clean and disinfect often.

Currently, there is no known cure for COVID-19. The good news is there are several very promising studies. For example, in Tampa, Florida, the VA Hospital is participating in a study that is conducting tests by treating patients, who have contracted the disease, with plasma from survivors of the disease. The study is small but has had promising results. Additionally, Gilead, the manufacturer of the HIV drug Biktarvy and the PrEP drugs Descovy and Truvada, recently announced the results from the Phase 3 trial of their drug Remdesivir. In early phases of the study, Gilead has seen positive results in treating patients with Remdesivir, and, as important, has found that the drug appears to be safe and effective. The company is working to increase production and to develop a way of administering the drug that does not require hospitalization as currently it can only be administered intravenously.

Currently there are also eight recognized studies in progress to develop COVID-19 vaccines. Pfizer has teamed up with German biotechnology company BioNTech and received the green light to move forward with a trial of 200 participants and a clinical trial of 500 participants at the University of Oxford in England and is also showing great promise. It will be some time before a vaccine is proven and enough is produced in great enough quantities to be available for use, but it appears clear that one will be developed in the near future.

I hope you found this article informative and I truly hope you stay safe and healthy.

26Health is a nonprofit community health clinic providing LGBTQ+ culturally competent primary medical and outpatient behavioral healthcare to anyone who believes in equality. We provide services regardless of insurance, ability to pay, legal status or wherever you fall on the LGBTQ+ and Ally spectrum.