As I write, the United States death count from COVID-19 stands at just over 41,000 people. I am relieved that my initial calculated estimates, as expressed in last month’s column, have not come true. Recent daily death counts have dropped below 2,000 (at last). We should still be very, very afraid, but can now be much more hopeful.
Credit for this in Sonoma County goes entirely to our community. Residents here have stayed home, isolating themselves and protecting the entire population from the COVID plague. Collectively, we have prevented this hideous disease from turning our neighborhoods into death camps.
But 41,000 deaths is still a huge number, and while "only" 2,000 deaths per day is an improvement, we are far from out of the woods. Our successful social distancing and self-isolation strategy clearly works, but we human beings are gregarious creatures who thrive under conditions allowing regular interaction with others. It is perfectly understandable that some of us are pushing for early release from self-quarantine: Understandable, but not wise.
Social media helps fill a part of our collective need to interact with others, but the trouble with the Internet is that any idiot can post ANYthing they please! A good meme, well written and adorned with artistic graphic content, can be very attractive and amusing, whether it’s based on truth or not. This is particularly the case when it’s something that we WANT to believe. Poor simple humans that we are, we eagerly accept as factual a meme that reinforces our existing beliefs. Worse are the memes that seem to make sense and may be accepted without question. These spread and multiply faster than COVID and we are collectively more stupid for it.
Here are a few stupid memes presented for excoriation:
COVID-19 was created in a bioweapons lab.
NO. The genome of COVID-19 has been sequenced and it very closely resembles a naturally occurring bat virus. It DOES NOT show telltale signs of laboratory manipulation and it CERTAINLY DOES NOT contain HIV insertions in its RNA. At present, there is no evidence that it somehow escaped from a virus research lab. Weirdly (or perhaps not), I recall hearing a similar rumor back in 1978 when Canine Parvo Virus first emerged. People were seriously suggesting that it was a Russian biowarfare experiment. Some things never change.
People can contract COVID-19 from pets.
NO. There is no evidence to support this. If anything, the opposite is true. Cats, especially kittens, are sensitive to COVID and could become infected by humans who are actively shedding the virus. Yes, a few dogs have tested positive for COVID-19, but only after exposure to infected humans. These dogs did not become ill and there is no evidence to show that either dogs or cats can spread the virus to people. In general, pet owners should maintain effective hygiene: wash your hands before and after handling pets or their food, bowls, leashes, etc. Kissing your pets is best avoided. People who may be infected with COVID-19 should avoid handling animals, for their safety and yours.
Animals are objects. Any object handled by someone shedding coronavirus may have virus deposited on its surface to be picked up by someone else. It’s the same with countertops, door knobs, gas pumps, or packages. Wash your hands thoroughly and often!
Hand sanitizer is poisonous and can kill your pets.
NO. A claim that hand sanitizers “have the same ingredient as antifreeze” and could kill your pet if they lick your sanitized hand has circulated in recent weeks. I have to ask: Just how much hand sanitizer are people using? First of all, hand sanitizers DO NOT contain ethylene glycol, the highly toxic ingredient in some antifreeze formulations. Ethylene glycol is poisonous, but it ain’t plutonium and there’s none in there anyway.
Now more than ever, we must all be responsible consumers of information. This is especially true when believing the wrong meme can cost someone their life. Other memes, like; it’s no worse than the flu, or only older people are at risk, or hair dryers kill novel coronavirus, or ibuprofen makes coronavirus worse, all sound believable and are not supported by evidence.
My prescription for "False Meme Disease:" Take two snopes.com and call me in the morning.