With so much misinformation and outright falsehoods about Covid-19 running rampant, I thought it would be worthwhile to create a sort of go-to guide for engaging your friends, family, and random people on the internet who are spreading failed Covid-19 conspiracy hypotheses.
As an aside, I also encourage you to stop referring to them as “conspiracy theories”, because they are not theories at all. They’re failed hypotheses.
(I would love to see us move away from calling them "conspiracy theories" because they are in fact *not* theories. They're failed hypotheses.)
— Dan Broadbent, but 6+ feet away (@aSciEnthusiast) December 2, 2020
I tried to keep most of the replies short and free from snark, but I provided sources if you want to go deeper.
Feel free to copy and paste any of these replies into a comment section near you, or shout it at your crazy aunt/uncle in your family Zoom call next weekend. You can also paraphrase, use your own words, or whatever you want to do (be sure to include a link to the source!).
All that matters to me is that good, accurate information is being shared to combat the unparalled onslaught of lies that are, quite literally, killing people. (But also, holy shit, I would love to be able to go to a bar at some point in 2021, free from the existential threat of Covid-19.)
If there’s a failed hypothesis you think I may have missed, feel free to let me know in the comments and I’ll get it added to the list.
(And because I’m a Covid-19 Contact Tracer myself, I need to note that the thoughts/opinions shared in this article are solely my own, have not been reviewed/endorsed by my Health Department, and do not represent the official thoughts/opinions of any organization or agency of any kind anywhere. It’s all solid information, but I am not representing anyone but myself here.)
‘Scientists don’t know what they’re doing’ or ‘The CDC keeps changing what they’re saying about Covid-19!’ or ‘The information from the CDC is just their opinion’
We’re seeing science happen in real-time. Typically, when the CDC, WHO, or other similar agency release guidance to the public, there are years, if not decades, of research and data behind what they’re saying.
The first known instance of Covid-19 infecting a human happened in December of 2019, which may sound like a long time ago, but that’s nothing in the world of virology. We’re still learning new things about it, so it makes sense that guidance would change based on new information. That’s how science works! (More reading: AAAS | Even more reading: PNAS | From 2009, but relevant: AAAS | Yet more background from WaPo)
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‘I already had Covid, so I am immune!’
The immune response, including duration of immunity, to SARS-CoV-2 infection is not yet understood. Based on what we know from other viruses, including common human coronaviruses, some reinfections are expected. Ongoing Covid-19 studies will help establish the frequency and severity of reinfection and who might be at higher risk for reinfection. At this time, whether you have had Covid-19 or not, the best ways to prevent infection are to wear a mask in public places, stay at least 6 feet away from other people, frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and avoid crowds and confined spaces. (CDC)
Additionally, there is evidence indicating that a less severe experience with Covid-19 also have a less reactive immune response, suggesting there may not be as strong immunity as someone with a more severe case. The same study also says that viral shedding (the amount you infect others) doesn’t equate with viral infectivity (basically, how sick you get yourself), and more research is needed in this area. (Nature)
Verbatim from CDC: Available data indicate that persons with mild to moderate COVID-19 remain infectious no longer than 10 days after symptom onset. Persons with more severe to critical illness or severe immunocompromise likely remain infectious no longer than 20 days after symptom onset. Recovered persons can continue to shed detectable SARS-CoV-2 RNA in upper respiratory specimens for up to 3 months after illness onset, albeit at concentrations considerably lower than during illness, in ranges where replication-competent virus has not been reliably recovered and infectiousness is unlikely.
The duration and robustness of immunity to SARS-CoV-2 remains under investigation. Based on what we know from other related human coronaviruses, people appear to become susceptible to reinfection around 90 days after onset of infection. (CDC)
‘I don’t trust a vaccine that’s been developed in such a short period of time.’
Coronaviruses like SARS and MERS have been around for nearly 20 years. That’s about two decades of vaccine research into Coronaviruses. That prior research, combined with the unparalleled interest in finding a vaccine for Covid-19, has helped lead us to the vaccine candidates we have today. (More detail: NEJM)
‘The CDC changed the numbers for Covid-19.’
This conspiracy hypothesis has no basis in reality. The CDC also says the death certificates may include conditions caused by coronavirus, such as respiratory issues. While a patient may have had lung problems or diabetes listed on their death certificate, Covid-19 has been given as the main cause of death. You can also think of it this way: If someone has a heart condition, but passes away from injuries sustained in a car crash, they still died from a car crash, though the heart condition may have played a minor role. (BBC)
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‘All this is just to make Trump look bad.’
What this suggests is that someone is in charge or is otherwise, somehow, orchestrating the pandemic. There are over 65 million infections worldwide, 50 million of which are outside of the US. It strains credulity to suggest that over 50 million people outside the US would pretend to be sick, and well over a million people outside the US would sacrifice their lives, just so they could make the president look bad. (Stats: WorldOfMeters)
‘Masks don’t work, and actually make you sick.’
It’s known that masks work to slow the spread of the virus. While it’s true that the virus is able to go through a cloth or disposable mask, the purpose of the mask is to limit the amount of tiny droplets of moisture that come out of your nose and mouth, which helps carry the virus. Multiple studies have found that masks lower the amount of these droplets that get spread into the air, and a Duke University study even ranked different types of masks. While N95 masks were obviously the most effective, surgical masks are a fairly close second, and multi-layer cloth masks were close behind in third. All of these showed a dramatically lower spread of droplets compared to no mask at all (AAAS).
‘Hospitals make more money if a patient dies from Covid!’
Dr. Fauci, possibly the world’s foremost expert on immunology, has said “you will always have conspiracy theories when you have very challenging public health crises. They are nothing but distractions.”
This myth was spread by inaccurate memes on social media. While it’s true the government pays more to hospitals (as part of the CARES Act, the government pays an additional 20% on top of traditional Medicare rates for Covid-19 patients, and reimburses for treating uninsured patients with Covid-19), there are over 65 million cases of Covid in the world, and hospitals in many other countries aren’t for-profit like our healthcare system is in the US. Many hospitals in the US, especially rural ones, have actually been losing money since the pandemic began. (FactCheck.org)
‘It’s just the flu’ or ‘It’s less lethal than the flu’ or ‘99.9% of people survive.’
According to the John Hopkins School for Public Health,Covid-19 has killed more people in the United States than the flu has in the last five years combined. You can even go on the CDC website and do the math yourself to check. And while younger people generally have better outcomes, they’re still infectious, meaning they can still spread it to others. And you might be surprised how many people have immune system disorders, making them more likely to have an adverse outcome. (source)
‘It’s the 19th strain of Covid, because it’s Covid-19 and we’ve been through this 19 times. Why didn’t we lockdown all the other times!?!?!’
The new virus was found to be a coronavirus, and coronaviruses cause a severe acute respiratory syndrome. This new coronavirus is similar to SARS-CoV, so it was named SARS-CoV-2 The disease caused by the virus was named COVID-19 (COronVIrusDisease-2019) to show that it was discovered in 2019. (CDC)
‘The virus is manmade, and patented.’
This was popularized by a rather flawed research paper released prior to actually being peer reviewed. The authors of the paper even came out alleging censorship before they published it – which just doesn’t make sense. The authors are also part of the “Rule of Law Society”, which is not a scientific organization, has strong ties to unsavory characters (Steve Bannon, among others), and their mission statement is dedicated solely to “expose” issues in China (source). While there may be reason for skepticism of the infection/death statistics reported by China, there’s no evidence supporting that it was created in a lab. (ACSH)
‘Covid-19 was manufactured in a lab in Wuhan.’
Anyone hoping to create a virus would need to work with already known viruses and engineer them to have desired properties. SARS-CoV-2 virus has components that differ from those of previously known viruses, so they had to come from an unknown virus or viruses in nature. One study said “This is not a virus somebody would have conceived of and cobbled together. It has too many distinct features, some of which are counterintuitive. You wouldn’t do this if you were trying to make a more deadly virus.” (ScienceNews)
Another study concluded, consistent with the current scientific consensus, that “Genetic data irrefutably show that SARS-CoV-2 is not derived from any previously used virus backbone.” (Nature)
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‘I have type O blood, so I’m less susceptible to infection.’
Two studies published in October suggest those with Type O blood have a lower risk of getting Covid-19, as well as a reduced likelihood of getting severely sick if they do get infected. However, “lower risk” is still a risk, and even if your infection isn’t as severe as others’, you’re still infectious, and still could spread the virus to someone who has a more severe reaction, or even dies from the infection. (ScienceAlert)
‘Bill Gates is making vaccines to give us microchips!’
Nanotechnology like this does not currently exist in an operational capacity. The Gates Foundation, into a technology that could store someone’s vaccine records in a special ink administered at the same time as an injection. However, the technology is not a microchip and is more like an invisible tattoo. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation says: “The reference to ‘digital certificates’ relates to efforts to create an open-source digital platform with the goal of expanding access to safe, home-based testing.” (BBC)