As the novel coronavirus continues to infect people around the world, news articles and social media posts about the outbreak continue to spread online. Unfortunately, this relentless flood of information can make it difficult to separate fact from fiction — and during a viral outbreak, rumors and misinformation can be dangerous.
Live Science has compiled a list of the most pervasive myths about the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, the disease it causes, and explained why these rumors are misleading, or just plain wrong.
Myth: Face masks can protect you from the virus
Standard surgical masks cannot protect you from SARS-CoV-2, as they are not designed to block out viral particles and do not lay flush to the face. That said, surgical masks can help prevent infected people from spreading the virus further by blocking any respiratory droplets that could be expelled from their mouths.
Myth: That the virus was made in a lab as a biochemical weapon
No evidence suggests that the virus is man-made. SARS-CoV-2 closely resembles two other coronaviruses that have triggered outbreaks in recent decades, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, and all three viruses seem to have originated in bats. In short, the characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 fall in line with what we know about other naturally occurring coronaviruses that made the jump from animals to people.
Myth: Getting COVID-19 is a death sentence
That’s not true. About 81% of people who are infected with the coronavirus have mild cases of COVID-19, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. About 13.8% report severe illness, meaning they have shortness of breath, or require supplemental oxygen, and about 4.7% are critical, meaning they face respiratory failure, multi-organ failure or septic shock. Only 2.3% of people infected with COVID-19 die from the virus. People who are older or have underlying health conditions seem to be most at risk of having severe disease or complications. While there’s no need to panic, people should take steps to prepare and protect themselves and others from the new coronavirus.
Myth: Pets can spread the new coronavirus
There is no evidence that pets, such as cats and dogs, can even be infected with the coronavirus, let alone spread it to humans, according to WHO. “However, it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets,” they wrote. Those actions protect you from common bacteria, including E.coli and Salmonella, that can spread from pets and humans.
Myth: Lockdowns or school closures won’t happen in the US
There’s no guarantee, but school closures are a common tool that public health officials use to slow or halt the spread of contagious diseases. For instance, during the swine flu pandemic of 2009, 1,300 schools in the U.S. closed to reduce the spread of the disease. At the time, CDC guidance recommended that schools close for 7 to 14 days.
While the coronavirus is a different disease, with a different incubation period, transmissibility and symptom severity, it’s likely that at least some school closures will occur.
Myth: Kids can’t catch the coronavirus
Children can definitely catch COVID-19, though some early statistics suggest they may be less likely to catch the virus than adults are.
Myth: If you have coronavirus, “you’ll know”
No, you won’t. COVID-19 causes a wide range of symptoms, many of which appear in other respiratory illnesses such as the flu and the common cold. Specifically, common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and rarer symptoms include dizziness, nausea, vomiting and a runny nose. In severe cases, the disease can progress into a serious pneumonia-like illness — but early on, infected people may show no symptoms at all.
Myth: The coronavirus is less deadly than the flu
So far, it appears the coronavirus is more deadly than the flu. The annual flu typically has a mortality rate of around 0.1% in the U.S. In comparison, recent data suggests that COVID-19 has a mortality rate more than 20 times higher. But these numbers are continuously evolving and may not represent the actual mortality rate
Myth: It’s not safe to receive a package from China
It is safe to receive letters or packages from China, according to WHO. Previous research has found that coronaviruses don’t survive long on objects such as letters and packages.
Myth: You can get the coronavirus if you eat at Chinese restaurants in the US
No, you can’t. By that logic, you’d also have to avoid Italian, Korean, Japanese and Iranian restaurants, given that those countries have also been facing an outbreak. The new coronavirus doesn’t just affect people of Chinese descent.