Where to get information about COVID-19 during a pandemic of misinformation

During the unusual times of the Coronavirus pandemic, information can be life-saving. And it can be very anxiety-provoking. There’s also a lot of misinformation out there. It can be so confusing to hear different news sources say seemingly contradictory things. Then there are the conspiracy theorists, arm-chair epidemiologists and self-appointed pundits willing to tell us what all the experts “don’t want you to know.”

In this information age, get your health advice from professional resources! Not from content on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube etc, unless it is posted from reputable health sources like the CDC, WHO, your local public health department, and others. Even news outlets can put their political spin on the communications coming from organizations, so I would look directly to the organizations themselves rather than rely on news outlets known to be either on the right or left side of the political spectrum. Local news often tends to be less politicized and more applicable. News coverage can negatively influence health behaviors when people consume news and then make health decisions with incomplete information. This happened when an individual unfortunately passed away after taking too seriously a national leader touting a particular treatment of COVID-19 despite mainstream medical professionals urging caution.

Even more caution is needed with posts made by lay people on social media. Just because one of your friends shared it, liked it or ranted about it doesn’t mean it is good health advice!

What we should have always been doing and what we were supposed to learn back in high school is called “critical thinking”. Now more than ever, there are people who stand to benefit from spreading misinformation, and danger in being duped by them. Keep these practices in mind when evaluating health information:

1. Is the source credible? Are they well respected in their field? Are they knowledgeable based on their training and qualified to be commenting on a topic? When in doubt, do a google search and learn about the person or organization. Do they have ulterior motives, like selling something or do they have an axe to grind?

2. Is what they are saying reproducible? In other words, is what they are saying also being said by other independent sources? There is strength in numbers when multiple sources say similar things. Which is not to say that people can’t be wrong, but the further “out there” a claim is, the more scrutiny it deserves.

3. Do they site sources? If you don’t believe that people aren’t above making up scientific-sounding information and fabricating numbers in order to sound like they know something, then you will be easily fooled.

4. Ask yourself if the information is applicable to you? This is where it’s important to consult with your personal physician.

Some cases in point:

Two doctors from Bakersfield, CA spoke out against recommendations from the CDC for social distancing, mask wearing, etc because their poorly done study showed that that COVID-19 is much more prevalent and less dangerous than all major medical organizations believed. This source is not very credible because they are Urgent Care doctors, not epidemiologists, who own their own urgent care and may have a business motive. Their findings are not reproducible and their methods have been criticized by medical organizations who know better, including the American College of Emergency Physicians. Their assertions are debunked here and here. So better to follow the official recommendations.

Recently a documentary surfaced called “Plandemic” in which a scientist asserts that the CDC has been plotting for years to intentional create and spread the COVID-19 virus in order to create a vaccine against it and therefore make a lot of money. Cursory research on the scientist shows that she has a dubious past of shoddy science and unethical behavior, about which she is dishonest. She makes a lot of scientific claims, without providing evidence, that run contrary to the consensus of the scientific community at large. These are so many problems and falsehoods in this video that are easily debunked here and here and here. Futhermore, she promotes her recent book, so there is an ulterior motive. Do yourself a favor, don’t buy it.

Here are some good places to find scientific and professional information.

The CDC represents mainstream medical recommendations about COVID-19. Stay abreast of their recommendations at their website here. They also have a symptom checker and statewide case total numbers. On both sites there are some good “myth busters” sections. (By the way, even though they are not professional medical organizations, fact checking websites like Factcheck, and Politifact can still be helpful as you consume news, including health related news. Both of these site have stood up pages dedicated to COVID-19, linked above.)

Intermountain Healthcare has a Coronavirus website for the public. There are a lot of good practical advice articles here on how to protect yourself and your family, including how to do social distancing and why it is so important. Also on what to do if you have symptoms. They have a Coronavirus Symptom Checker you can use to help determine if you should get tested, as well as the “Healthy Together” app published by the State of Utah.

Follow the Utah Department of Health website at coronavirus.utah.gov to track the latest local numbers. This site is updated daily around 1pm. It also shows data on number of hospitalizations and deaths state wide, and the ages of people that have tested positive. There is also a chat function you can use to ask questions and a number for the COVID-19 hotline which allows you to talk with a nurse.

You can get local case information at the Southwest Utah Department of Public Health website which breaks down the number of cases by county, including the daily number of new cases and recovered cases.

John Hopkins School of Medicine has compiled an extremely comprehensive and interactive global map that displays totals of cases, deaths, and number of recovered persons. A word about following case numbers- while we need to pay attention to local data, it’s also important to know what going on around the country and the world so we know just how serious of a problem this is that we are facing globally. When I hear people blow off this pandemic, I can’t help but wonder how they can bury their heads in the sand and ignore what is going on. On the other hand, following these numbers constantly can distort your perception of your personal risk for infection or a bad outcome. While it is essential to take precautions that the world is taking right now, it’s not good to obsess and panic either.

Also, it’s important to consume news wisely. Give yourself a certain amount of time each day to stay updated but them turn it off and go play with your kids, exercise, enjoy a hobby and try to keep life as normal as possible within the measures we have to take at this point in time. Stay informed, but also stay present in the moment.

And don’t believe everything you hear.