By Bobby Bordelon
Author’s note – this piece is intended to address the claims of those writing in Mountain Media News’s opinion sections. This is not a condemnation of either their opinions on what to do about the virus or a suggestion their opinions are not worth consideration or publication. This piece is intended to debunk a few of the false narratives around the virus and provide a common reference point for the debate on how the country moves forward.
As the United States passes the 5.5 million COVID-19 case mark, the opinions sections of Mountain Media News various papers are reckoning with the new reality the pandemic has created in the United States. Although debate remains on what the United States should do, one thing it cannot afford to do is ignore the data and evidence in front of it.
The ideas endorsed by these letters prompted one writer to call for a much more aggressive fact checking of opinion sections.
“I fear that … the USA will continue to be the laughing stock of third world countries, the source of pity from all our friends and the easy target for our enemies,” wrote John C. Nemeth in the Radford News Journal. “The pandemic may begin to lose some ground to the crazy quilt of response that has derived from total inaction and lack of national leadership. We will stumble along and, if well-founded predictions come true, we may lose up to 300,000 or even half a million souls. … Opinion is one thing, but [the opinion pages have] allowed a bilious spew of fake patriotism, hollow rugged individualism, the screech of phony cries about personal rights wronged, and the misguided, even criminal, pursuit of anti-science without doing some due diligence. … Just the facts, man!”
One common misconception is that the virus does not harm most of the people it comes into contact with.
“According to CDC figures (which are likely be overinflated for a variety of reasons) of the ‘confirmed cases’ of coronavirus, over 99 percent of people infected recover completely,” wrote Timothy P. Buchanan in the Fincastle Herald. “And while it is always prudent to take precautions such as frequent hand-washing and avoiding people who are coughing and sneezing, face mask mandates offer false confidence for specious purposes.”
Acknowledging the 174,647 deaths out of 5,595,361 cases in the United States, according to the Hopkins’ numbers as of August 21, would mean the virus has approximately 3.1 percent mortality. While this doesn’t seem high, 3.1 percent of the United States population is approximately 930,000 fellow citizens. This percentage can also change – the number of deaths increase when the virus spreads rapidly and fills hospitals, such as what happened in New York City early in the pandemic. When doctors are unable to treat people, the death rate rises. In addition, the possibility of death is not only concern with COVID-19. Many individuals who survive the disease are left with potential permanent damage to their bodies.
“I am worried about going back [to school] because I have had it and still have issues,” explained Cristy Spencer, a 24-year teacher for William Byrd High School, in the Vinton Messenger. “The brain fog is unreal. It is so frustrating. Some people have had it and no symptoms; some have had it and been sick for a few days. Then there are the unlucky ones that were hospitalized, some ventilated, and some that have passed away. It’s scary. … A former student of mine who I have stayed in touch told me his dad got COVID and was hospitalized for 29 days. He said he was so healthy – no issues – and got it. They couldn’t get his breathing stabilized. I’m so thankful his dad is out, but he’s dealing with recovery now. Another former student’s friend who is 24 lost all feeling in the left side of her body. It is just flabbergasting how much this virus varies from person to person, regardless of age, and the lasting effects. We still have so much to learn.”
Speaking at a meeting of Roanoke County Schools on August 13, Spencer explained she contracted COVID-19 in mid-June.
“I was in bed sick for over two weeks,” Spencer said. “At about three weeks I was able to get out of bed and sit downstairs more. My symptoms, like many people, were not the same as others. At first it was like a cold, it evolved into days of days of incredible muscle and joint pain, then evolved into days of horrific headaches that were worse than migraines that I get. I called them Covid-headaches. Nothing worked to lessen the pain. I had a mild temperature throughout the COVID experience and it lasted over a month. Tylenol was the only thing my temperature responded to. And when I had the low-grade fever, it intensified the symptoms even more. … I have had the flu, bronchitis, strep, mono, viruses I often get, and COVID is by far the worst thing I have ever experienced in my life. After the headaches, the stomach issues started. The final evolution was losing my sense of taste and smell, and shortness of breath,. When I finally was able to stay out of bed longer and attempt to do little things like water plants, I would get so out of breath I felt like it was an asthma attack. I have no underlying health conditions. I would experience fatigue like I had mono and would have to take naps. I am not a nap person! I finally evolved out of that stage, but still will get shortness of breath and my heart will race at times.”
One incorrect letter to the editor received ample push back from the local community after declaring there was “no scientific evidence supporting mask use.”
“Even worse than their utter uselessness, face masks can actually cause harm,” wrote Deborah Ring in the Radford News Messenger. “Unclean masks worn for several hours of the day can cultivate staph infections that may infect the lungs and reduce the wearer’s resistance to other diseases. But the most long-lasting social consequences may prove to be far more severe. … It is unreasonable to believe that … the medical community [is] unaware of the fact that face masks cannot possibly filter out airborne viruses. Therefore, there must be another reason for promoting the use of masks and none of the choices are good ones.”
After Ring wrote to the Radford News Messenger, four individuals responded, seeking to correct the record.
“I found citations as far back as 1946 (Duguid),” wrote Dianne Rencsok. “Many, such as a 20-page article published in the United Kingdom, are not written for a layman’s knowledge basis. Additionally, there are many citations to other sources that can be found following the CDC article ‘Considerations for wearing a mask.’ These include a much clearer study documenting that even homemade mask material reduces the spread of bacteria.”
Additionally, the study cited by Ring in her letter to the editor endorsed the idea that mask wearing could help prevent additional cases. The study cited was published in 2009 and examines the self-reported use of masks in the transmission of an “influenza-like illness.”
“We found that adherence to mask use significantly reduced the risk for ILI-associated infection, but <50% of participants wore masks most of the time” reads the abstract. “We concluded that household use of face masks is associated with low adherence and is ineffective for controlling seasonal respiratory disease. However, during a severe pandemic when use of face masks might be greater, pandemic transmission in households could be reduced. … If adherence were greater, mask use might reduce transmission during a severe influenza pandemic.”
Although Ring acknowledges the potential impact on the elder the virus often has, she incorrectly writes about how it does not affect children.
“The coronavirus affects the elderly and those with other health issues disproportionately,” Ring wrote. “The young are virtually unaffected (so why school closings?). Why don’t we take special precautions for that segment of the population that is most vulnerable instead of imposing draconian, destructive measures on society as a whole?”
The idea that children are completely unaffected by the virus is untrue – a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association found that over 97,000 children in the United States tested positive for the virus in the last two weeks of July, a 40 percent infection increase in just those two weeks. In addition, although children aged nine and below might be an infrequent transmission vector, one study out of South Korea suggests that school-aged children above 10 could be one of the biggest transmission vectors.
“We also found the highest COVID-19 rate for household contacts of school-aged children and the lowest for household contacts of children [up to nine-years old] in the middle of school closure,” reads the study. “… We showed that household transmission of [COVID-19] was high if the index patient was 10 –19 years of age. In the current mitigation strategy that includes physical distancing, optimizing the likelihood of reducing individual, family, and community disease is important. Implementation of public health recommendations, including hand and respiratory hygiene, should be encouraged to reduce transmission of [COVID-19] within affected households.”
Echoing Ring, one columnist in the Calhoun Chronicle emphasized the idea that the virus narrative is invented to serve some political purpose, specifically attacking President Donald Trump.
“The Chinese virus and the political fallout continues all across the nation,” wrote Alvin Engelke for the Calhoun Chronicle. “It is clear that matters are better most places, but the hype continues so that folks will be scared and, of course, blame the president. Some local folks had to consult with their medical advisors, and they agreed that, after the election, the crazy stuff would end.”
While it is generally accepted that the virus mutated and first infected human beings in China, the numbers on the ground show that the United States is the only country to have over 5 million cases, over 2 million more than the second highest country, Brazil. This suggests that the question shouldn’t be where the virus originated (Johns Hopkins’ numbers place China at 89,594 cases), but what national leadership did for each country as the virus crossed over into their population. These facts beg the question – what is more likely? Countries all over the world planned and launched a massive misinformation campaign designed to hurt President Trump or the United States in particular failed to manage the virus as well as other places?
In order to best stay informed about COVID-19, read up on the current literature on the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/.