While the new coronavirus took time to make its way to Idaho, its presence in the state has dominated media coverage and casual conversation in the last week. It has led Boise Mayor Lauren McLean to order all bars and restaurants in the city to shut down in-person dining, and Gov. Brad Little to order the entire population of Blaine County to stay home unless absolutely necessary.
Given the disruption the virus has caused in Americans’ daily lives, it’s understandable rumors and misinformation would spread just as the virus itself does. Here are some of the more common myths about the new coronavirus, where it came from and the risk it poses to the average Idahoan.
Myth: Getting infected by the virus means you will probably die.
It’s doesn’t. Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause diseases; the first human coronavirus was discovered in the 1960s. The new coronavirus is a new strain of an old virus. Still, scientists don’t know much about the new strain, which was first discovered in China in December, so it’s difficult to say with certainty what the virus will do now that it has spread across the globe. Early studies indicate about 80% of people who get sick with COVID-19 — the disease the virus causes — experience mild symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Myth: COVID-19 is no different than the flu.
Early studies also indicate there are key differences between COVID-19 and the flu. To start with, the death rate for the flu — an old foe doctors and scientists have had more than a century to study — is about .1%, according to the medical news organization Stat. So far this year, according to the CDC, the flu has caused 23,000 to 59,000 deaths, and 390,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations.
Estimated death rates for COVID-19 vary, but a recent study places the number at somewhere close to 1.4%, according to a March 16 story from Stat — making the illness deadlier than the flu; that number may change when more data becomes available and as more people are tested.
The reason health experts and governments across the country are worried about COVID-19, though, is because it appears to have a higher hospitalization rate than the flu, and because it’s more contagious than the flu. The average flu patient infects one other person, Christine Hahn, Idaho’s state epidemiologist, said at a recent news conference. But studies so far show the average COVID-19 patient infects two or three other people, she said.
Gov. Brad Little — along with other governors — has repeatedly mentioned his concern about the potential for a crush of COVID-19 cases to overload the health care system. A recent preliminary study found that of 4,226 reported cases of COVID-19, 508 — or 12% — developed symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization, according to the CDC. Researchers pointed out they didn’t have full data on hospitalization for many patients.
Myth: It is impossible to kill the coronavirus
There isn’t a vaccine for COVID-19, nor do doctors know how to kill the coronavirus once it’s inside the body, but it can be killed on surfaces. Coralee Johnson, owner of the cleaning company MaidPro Boise, said the biggest misconception she hears from the people whose homes she cleans is that the virus is impossible to kill. Cleaning supplies labeled “disinfectant” can kill the virus, she said; legally, if a product carries that label, it is strong enough to kill the virus. There is a difference between sanitizer and disinfectant, she added; disinfectant is stronger.
This bit of wisdom is also supported by Consumer Reports, which lists soap and water, bleach, isopropyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide as substances that can kill the virus. The nonprofit notes homemade hand sanitizer, vodka and distilled white vinegar do not kill the virus, despite rumors they might.
Myth: COVID-19 only makes the elderly sick
According to information provided Wednesday from the CDC, about 38% of people in a recent study who contracted COVID-19 and had to be hospitalized were younger than 55. Of Idaho’s first 31 confirmed cases, 16 were 19 to 49 years old, 15 were 50 years old or older, and none were 18 or younger, according to the most recent data available on Idaho’s state coronavirus website.
Myth: The coronavirus was created in a lab
The evidence doesn’t suggest this. Brandon Atkins, the program manager for Central District Health’s Family and Clinic Services Division, in an interview earlier this month, cited evidence that the new coronavirus had its origin in bats. What likely happened, he said, is that the virus moved from animals to humans in recent years. In epidemiology, the population of organisms in which a virus can live is referred to as a “reservoir.” Atkins said the reservoir for the new coronavirus likely moved from the animal population to the human population.
Myth: A face mask will protect the general public from the coronavirus
The virus spreads through the droplets of coughs and sneezes. Still, a mask won’t make much difference for the general public who are trying to avoid contracting the disease, according to The Guardian. But for health care workers and first responders who may be exposed to the virus, a certain type of mask — called an N95 mask — is paramount to have. There is currently a shortage of them, however, according to the CDC.
Ada County Paramedics are wearing masks when a patient presents with flu-like symptoms, according to Steve Boyenger, the agency’s chief. If paramedics wear a mask on a call, they also put a mask on the call’s patient if possible, Boyenger said.