How To Tell Who's Full Of Shit When They're Talking About Coronavirus

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There’s a lot of information and misinformation out there about COVID-19. But I’ve found that there’s one hallmark that distinguishes legit experts from quacks and attention seekers: if someone speaks with absolute certainty, they’re probably making shit up.

This is a new virus

This coronavirus was unknown to science before December. If somebody tells you a certain supplement or diet or anything will “work” against coronavirus, they’re wrong. None of that has been tested.

There are a few antiviral drugs being tested, including remdesivir. We don’t have results yet, and won’t for a while. Please do not believe any copy-pasted chain letter that tells you that zinc is “proven” to work or that the government is hushing up kratom’s effectiveness. The studies have not been done; they simply cannot have been done.

Health departments worldwide have been watching China since they dealt with this disease first, and quickly, and apparently effectively. Findings from the World Health Organisation’s China report are here, if you’d like to read. Social distancing seemed to work well, for example. But there’s still no guarantee that what worked in China will work the same way everywhere else. There are just too many factors (biological, social, economic) to predict anything with certainty.

We’ve never seen a virus like this spread worldwide before

It has also not yet spread worldwide, and we don’t know how each country’s health system will be able to handle it. It doesn’t matter whether somebody is telling you not to worry, or if they are predicting apocalyptic doom, we simply do not know how bad this is going to get. It’s not really fair to compare the death rate or the R0 of a brand-new, still-expanding pandemic to that of a disease like flu or measles that’s well-established worldwide and that many people are already vaccinated against.

The real experts keep updating their interpretation of the situation. I have not seen actual epidemiologists or virologists or public health experts say one thing and stick to it. They emphasise that we are learning as we go, making judgment calls as necessary, and constantly updating our understanding of the disease.

Change is good, actually

As the situation evolves, you want to see recommendations change. Before the outbreak hits your country, it’s smart for people to wash their hands and for healthcare workers to understand what to do if they’re the one to see the first coronavirus case.

Once a few cases are present, it makes sense to track down contacts of each sick person, and consider those people to be the ones at risk of contracting the disease, with other people still washing their hands and being prepared but not worried.

And then once there are enough cases in a country or community that you can’t trace every one of them, social distancing begins to make a lot of sense. This is the stage we’re entering now, in the US.

So first we were told to wash our hands and not worry; then everybody was making a big deal about a few cases; and now everything’s getting cancelled all of a sudden? Yes, and that’s pretty much how it should be.

In changing times it can feel comforting to see somebody hold strong to the same message no matter what. But an appropriate response evolves as the situation does, so change is a good thing. Even if some information you get appears to be legit, check with up-to-date sources (like the WHO) to make sure it still applies.


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