When a virus spreads quickly, so does misinformation. It’s tempting to believe any tip or warning you hear about COVID-19 (the disease caused by the novel coronavirus), especially when you’re feeling anxious, confused, and desperate for solutions or answers.
Unfortunately, since the world learned about COVID-19 back in January 2020, dangerous and problematic myths have already widely circulated—and those myths could put people and their loved ones at risk.
MYTH: It’s “just the flu”
This myth is problematic for a couple reasons. For starters, the seasonal flu is a serious problem every year, contrary to what many believe. In the 2017-18 flu season, around 61,000 people in the United States died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To say it’s “just” the flu is dismissive of how serious the flu is.
But furthermore, COVID-19 is statistically more contagious and more deadly than the seasonal flu.
MYTH: Everyone must wear a mask to prevent COVID-19 infection
Not everyone: Masks are in short supply and many areas are experiencing shortages, so they should be saved for healthcare workers.
Besides healthcare providers, other people who may benefit from face masks include those who are taking care of people who have COVID-19 at home, and people who have COVID-19 while they are in public (such as in a hospital waiting room).
But in general, they should not be used as prevention for people who are not infected. For these people, it’s better to focus on good hand hygiene and social distancing. Learn more about who should wear face masks for COVID-19 here.
MYTH: The flu vaccine helps prevent COVID-19
The flu vaccine is helpful, but not because it prevents COVID-19. Influenza viruses and coronaviruses are different viruses, so they can’t be prevented by the same vaccine.
That said, getting the flu vaccine can reduce the rates of the seasonal flu, which helps lighten the burden on crowded healthcare facilities. During a pandemic like COVID-19, hospital beds are in short supply, so the fewer people with the flu (and other ailments), the better healthcare providers are able to handle the surge of patients from coronavirus.
MYTH: You can get COVID-19 from a pet
Probably not. There is always the possibility of a virus mutating and being able to transmit between dogs and humans, for example, but at the time being, there’s little evidence that pets have been infected or could spread it to you.
There was one case of a dog being infected in Hong Kong in late February, according to the World Health Organization. It was considered a low-level infection, and the dog was isolated and later tested negative. It’s still unclear how the dog contracted the virus, and no other reports of companion animals with the virus have occurred (as of March 2020).
MYTH: You can get COVID-19 from a package
Probably not. The virus can survive on surfaces, such as the cardboard of your Amazon box or possibly paper, but it’s unlikely to survive all the different temperatures and conditions it’s exposed to during days of transit. Still, it’s wise to take precautions after touching any surface: Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.
MYTH: You can get COVID-19 from eating Chinese food
No, no, no. Some people have started avoiding Chinese restaurants, or even making hurtful comments to Asian Americans. The CDC warns that this creates a stigma. “Stigma hurts everyone by creating more fear or anger towards ordinary people instead of the disease that is causing the problem,” the CDC states. “Viruses do not target specific racial or ethnic groups.”
One caveat: Pathogens *can* be spread through food in general (hello, food poisoning), so eating any food through takeout—whether it’s Chinese or Pizza Hut—can be risky during an outbreak. Take precaution by washing your hands before eating and making no or minimal contact with the delivery person. Currently, it is unclear if the novel coronavirus can be transmitted through food.
MYTH: You don’t need to worry if you’re young and healthy
This is wrong for a couple reasons. Patients under 40 are not immune to serious symptoms or death from COVID-19. The vast majority of COVID-19 fatalities have occurred in adults over the age of 50, and especially over 80—but some have occurred in younger adults.
Regardless of your personal risk factors, during a pandemic, it’s crucial for everyone to work together to slow or reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. That’s because young people can be carriers that put others at risk, especially since you can be contagious before showing symptoms (or without ever experiencing symptoms). Following orders to practice isolation, quarantine, or social distancing can help protect loved ones, neighbors, and community members. Learn more prevention tips for COVID-19 here.
Living through a pandemic is stressful enough—don’t let these myths go viral to add to the confusion and panic.