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In a matter of months, the coronavirus has swept across the globe, sickening millions and killing hundreds of thousands in its path. And just as quickly as the virus has spread, so too have falsehoods about its transmissibility and treatment. Here are 10 myths about the coronavirus that you shouldn't believe.
Myth: Warmer weather will stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Summer is just around the corner, and some are hoping that the warmer weather will put an end to the coronavirus outbreak. Public health experts, however, caution that this may not be the case.
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“The science there is not as clear as it needs to be” when it comes to the weather’s impact on the speed of the virus’s spread, says Aaron Bernstein, M.D., interim director of C-CHANGE (Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment) at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “And I don’t think it can be because, although we have other coronaviruses to draw inference from, we don’t have experience with this coronavirus.”
If this coronavirus acts like other coronaviruses (remember that there are several coronaviruses that can infect humans and cause mild upper-respiratory tract illnesses, such as the common cold), warmer temperatures and more humid weather may slow it down, Bernstein says. These viruses and others, including the bug that causes the flu, tend to spread more during cold-weather months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, “that does not mean it is impossible to become sick with these viruses during other months,” the CDC says.
“There’s some research to suggest that even at slower rates, [the novel coronavirus] is still going to be capable of exponential transmission” during summer’s warm months, explains Bernstein, pointing to places with warm-weather climates such as Singapore, India and Louisiana as examples. These areas have seen large outbreaks of infections despite their hot temperatures.
Another thing to consider? Hot weather increases the risk for hospitalization and death, especially among older adults, whose bodies have a harder time adjusting to temperature changes. This could add stress to hospitals and health care systems around the country that are already burdened with coronavirus outbreaks.
“We have to be mindful” and not rush to abandon preventive measures such as social distancing just because it’s summer, Bernstein argues. The World Health Organization (WHO) says frequent handwashing is also needed to prevent coronavirus infections, no matter how sunny or warm it is outside.
Myth: Young people don’t get sick from a coronavirus infection.
While older adults and people with chronic health conditions — including heart disease, kidney disease, lung ailments and diabetes — are at higher risk than younger, healthier people for getting severely sick from the illness caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19), they are not the only population filling hospital beds around the globe.
A mid-March analysis from the CDC found that more than half of the nearly 2,500 Americans who had been hospitalized with COVID-19 at that point were younger than 55. And while the rate of hospitalizations for COVID-19 is higher in adults 65 and older, it’s still significant in people under 65.
Jordan Warchol, an emergency physician and assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC), says she has seen “several people” in their 30s and 40s become critically ill with COVID-19.
“Even though it might happen more often to older people, that doesn’t mean that young people are immune from it,” she says. And, unfortunately, lots of people are “getting severely ill when we otherwise would not expect that because of their age.”
Myth: Social distancing isn’t necessary if you’ve already been infected.
Even if you’ve tested positive for a past coronavirus infection, you still need to take the same precautions as everyone else, experts say. And that’s because we don’t have a definitive answer yet as to whether a previous infection provides extended immunity.
“We’re still waiting for some of the studies to come out that really tell us for sure that when you’ve had the virus and mounted an antibody to it, that you are protected,” says Roger Shapiro, M.D., associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. However, “the general feeling is that there’s a lot of optimism that this will be the case.”