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10 COVID-19 myths debunked

This fall, there has been a surge of COVID-19 infections across Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, including in communities served by Mayo Clinic Health System. Some Mayo Clinic Health System locations have activated hospital emergency surge plans to manage the increased number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 infections.

Because of the upward trends with the pandemic, it may be tempting to believe these questionable claims. Below are 10 myths debunked and the facts that support the truth.

Myth: Spikes in COVID-19 cases are because of increased testing.

Fact: The rise in infections is not related to increased testing. Of greater concern than the number of tests performed is the increase in the percentage of positive results. This means that the virus is spreading quickly in our communities.

COVID-19 testing is critical, as it helps people make decisions to self-isolate and guides health care providers’ decisions for medical treatment. Widespread testing also allows local health departments to monitor the virus’ spread and make recommendations to schools and businesses.

Myth: We can achieve herd immunity by letting the virus spread through the population.

Fact: Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected — not just those who are immune. There are some significant problems with relying on community infection to create herd immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19. First, it isn’t yet clear if infection with the COVID-19 virus makes a person immune to future infection. If it does not create immunity, herd immunity will not work.

Even if COVID-19 infection creates long-lasting immunity to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, a large number of people would have to become infected to reach the herd immunity threshold. Experts estimate that in the U.S., 70 percent of the population — more than 200 million people — would have to recover from COVID-19 to halt the epidemic. This amount of infection also could lead to serious, and potentially long-term, complications and millions of deaths. If many people become sick with COVID-19 at once, the health care system could quickly become overwhelmed.

Myth: The number of COVID-19 deaths is much lower and the disease is overblown.

Fact: This myth stems from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) table that showed the majority of people who died of COVID-19 had multiple causes listed on their death certificates. The myth speculates that the majority of these deaths were the result of another preexisting condition, such as heart or lung conditions, weakened immune systems, severe obesity or diabetes.

The problem with this reasoning is the vast majority of these people could have lived much longer if they had not contracted COVID-19. The CDC explained, “For deaths with conditions or causes in addition to COVID-19, on average, there were 2.6 additional conditions or causes per death.” This aligns with what public health officials have said before: The risk of developing dangerous symptoms of COVID-19 may be increased for people who are older and people of any age who have other serious health problems.

Myth: Only the elderly or those with underlying health conditions will get very ill and require hospitalization for COVID-19.

Fact: People of all ages can contract COVID-19. The risk of developing dangerous symptoms from COVID-19 may be increased in people who are older or in people of any age who have other serious health problems, such as heart or lung conditions, weakened immune systems, severe obesity or diabetes.

People of all ages are being hospitalized with COVID-19. The average age of patients hospitalized because of COVID-19 at Mayo Clinic Health System fluctuates day-to-day.

Myth: The quality of COVID-19 data cannot be trusted.

Fact: Early in the pandemic, information about COVID-19 was changing often as physicians and scientists learned about the new virus. This may have led some people to be concerned with the reliability of the data and information. In addition, partisan approaches and messaging led to further skepticism.

However, we do know hospitals across the upper Midwest are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of patients needing to be hospitalized for COVID-19. Over the past few weeks, the number of patients with COVID-19 in Mayo Clinic Health System hospitals has increased significantly. This situation has the potential to overwhelm hospital resources and impact the availability to provide preventive and emergent care in our communities.

Myth: Cold weather and snow can kill COVID-19.

Fact: There is no scientific evidence to believe colder weather can kill COVID-19 or other viruses. The normal human body temperature remains around 36.5 C to 37 C, regardless of the external temperature or weather.

Use these practices to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in communities:

• Wear a mask in public.  I wear a mask to protect you. You wear a mask to protect me.

• Keep your physical distance — 6 feet or about two arms’ lengths apart from other people.

• Avoid in-person gatherings.

• Wash your hands with soap and water. It’s simple and effective.

• Stay home if you do not feel well.

• Get a test if you have COVID-19 symptoms. Call your local health care provider to schedule a test.

• Self-isolate if you have been around someone who is sick or tested positive.

Myth: I’m currently taking an antibiotic, so this may prevent or treat COVID-19.

Fact: Antibiotics treat only bacteria, not viruses. COVID-19 is caused by a virus, and, therefore, antibiotics should not be used for prevention or treatment. However, some people who are hospitalized for COVID-19 may receive antibiotics because they have a different bacterial infection at the same time.

Myth: COVID-19 is no worse than the seasonal flu.

Fact: During the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have heard that COVID-19 is similar to the flu. It is true that both are contagious respiratory diseases caused by viruses and people with COVID-19 and the flu may share some common symptoms.

However, after closer comparison, the viruses have been found to affect people differently and have differences. Symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu appear at different times. COVID-19 symptoms generally appear two to 14 days after exposure. Flu symptoms usually appear about one to four days after exposure. With COVID-19, you may experience loss of taste or smell.

COVID-19 appears to be more contagious and spread more quickly than the flu. Severe illness, such as lung injury, may be more frequent with COVID-19 than with influenza. The death rate also appears to be higher with COVID-19 than the flu. COVID-19 also can cause different complications than the flu, such as blood clots and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.

Another difference is the flu can be treated with antiviral drugs. No antiviral drugs are currently approved and available to treat COVID-19. Researchers are evaluating many drugs and treatments for COVID-19. Some drugs may reduce the severity of COVID-19.

Myth: Fabric masks don’t protect you or others from COVID-19. 

Fact: Simply put, wearing a cloth mask helps decrease the spread of COVID-19. Research shows that a significant number of people with COVID-19 lack symptoms or are considered asymptomatic. These people may not know they are transmitting the virus to others when they talk, sneeze, cough or raise their voice (e.g., singing or shouting). You should wear a cloth mask to reduce the chance of transmitting respiratory droplets to others around you. You should wear a mask to protect others, and they should wear a mask to protect you. 

Myth: Children who develop COVID-19 don’t become critically ill. 

Fact: Most children with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. However, some children get severely ill from COVID-19. They might require hospitalization, intensive care or a ventilator to help them breathe. In rare cases, they may die.

Although the CDC reports fewer children have been sick with COVID-19 compared with adults, children can be infected and become ill with the virus that causes COVID-19, and also spread the virus to others. Children, like adults, who have COVID-19 but have no symptoms can still spread the virus to others.