Beware coronavirus misinformation, well-intentioned or not by Marjorie Arons-Barron

Everyone has an opinion on how serious is the WHO-identified pandemic coronavirus.  Many share guidance on how to deal with it. Far fewer share evidence-based science. Disturbing though it may be, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at how much our assessments divide on partisan lines. According to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll: unease is strongly divided along party lines: 83% of Democrats are concerned about getting the virus, 47% of whom are “very concerned,” compared to 56% of Republicans who claim to be concerned, with only 50% “very concerned.”

Given that 44% of Republicans claim to be “not concerned” at all about the pandemic (compared to only 17% of Democrats), it’s no wonder that the 700-person fundraiser scheduled for Mar-a- Largo this weekend will not be canceled or postponed. (Small surprise from the President who persists in shaking hands,  who refuses to be tested though he spent time last weekend with a Brazilian official who tested positive, and repeatedly contradicts his health advisers in downplaying the seriousness of the crisis.)

This morning,  a conservative friend, who gets much of his news from Fox (and a little CNN) decried the hysteria and said there was no need to worry yet because the numbers of community spread are so low. He saw the lack of negative information as something positive and is not inclined to modify his behavior until many more people have been tested as positive and bodies start to mount.

On the other hand, one of my usually reliable liberal sources passed along what she believed to be helpful advice regarding self-diagnosis and preventive action. It sounded so good that my husband passed the email on to a close circle of family and friends. Fortunately, one of them was stellar investigative reporter Joe Bergantino, who promptly responded that the information was fake. When my husband did his own research, he quickly discovered Bergantino was right and relearned an old lesson we all must take to heart, especially now.

Bad information runs the gamut. At one extreme is Reverend Jerry Falwell, Jr., who decries coronavirus as a Chinese and Korean conspiracy to defeat Donald Trump, and other Trump supporters, including Trump’s children, who blame Democrats for exaggerating the crisis to hurt their father.  Then there’s a group of snake oil hucksters, including televangelist Jim Bakker selling false coronavirus cures.

But fake news comes in many forms from many sources, even trusted, well-meaning ones. We need to be skeptical about everything. Do our homework. Double check whenever possible. Don’t fall for click-bait. Facebook and chain emails can be quite dangerous. If something sounds too good to be true, or unbelievable, it often is. Especially now we must be vigilant in consuming and, perhaps even more importantly, passing on important information. People’s health and safety depend on our not getting snookered.