For all of the great articles out there on COVID-19, there seems to be twice as many memes and social media posts muddying the waters with misinformation.
How do you respond to it? Do you ignore it and hope it goes away? Block/mute the person posting until you only see content you agree with? Politely offer facts in rebuttal? Start a meme war?
I don’t know. Nothing feels good or particularly effective. So this is my attempt to coalesce all of my thinking into one place so I don’t explode the next time I see a bad COVID-19 meme.
Here’s my (somewhat coherent) response to spectrum of people posting half-baked COVID-19 theories – from people who continually berate public health officials for not doing a perfect job to those who flat out deny the existence of COVID-19 all together.
The Amateur Epidemiologist
You think: The government is doing a horrible job. You disagree with the decisions to open schools, mandate masks, restrict travel, and prioritize vaccines.
My response: Skepticism is healthy. COVID-19 is a new disease, and we’ve been learning as we go. There’s no perfect answer on how to balance public health with the economy. Almost every country has charted a different course through the pandemic and the results have been very different.
Sweden shunned lockdown to focus on solutions that were sustainable long term, as they recognized the need to balance the threat of COVID with people’s mental health and the long term impacts of shutting down schools. It was a bold approach, but it didn’t go very well.
Australia has had huge success with harsh “circuit-breaker” lockdowns and has managed to largely eliminate COVID-19 in the country. It’s hard not to feel jealous seeing pictures of people partying mask-less on the beach.
The Czech Republic was the poster child for containing the virus a year ago. Now they’re the a cautionary tale of what happens when you relax regulations prematurely. Their own Prime Minister refers to it as “hellish days”.
I think the important thing to recognize here is there is no playbook for COVID-19. Travel bans, mask mandates, mass vaccine rollouts – they’re all unprecedented and there are going to be mistakes. Hold politicians and public health officials to account, but also give them some credit for trying their best in a near-impossible situation. As Dr. Bonny Henry says: “Be kind, be calm, be safe.”
The Anti-Mask Protester
You Think: We’re living in an authoritarian police state. The government is forcing people to wear masks and destroying the economy, especially small businesses. COVID is no worse than the flu.
My response: If you really support small businesses, then stop harassing them. Retailers are struggling, and screaming at staff in stores or calling everyone who wears a mask a Nazi isn’t the kind of help they need.
I get it. Masks suck. They’re uncomfortable, smelly (or do you just smell your own breath), and aren’t guaranteed to prevent the spread of the virus. But combined with other measures like hand washing, physical distancing, and smaller social bubbles, they significantly reduce the spread of the disease.
And yes, COVID is worse than the flu. Globally, 2.6 million people have died from COVID in the past year. By comparison, the flu kills 250,000 – 500,000 people every year.
I’ve seen the critiques of inflated death statistics: “Get hit by a car, must have been COVID”. Yes, attributing a single cause of death to someone is hard, especially when the virus is most deadly for people with pre-existing health conditions like cancer, COPD, heart disease, and diabetes. But you can ignore all of that noise and just look at total deaths.
COVID has caused a lot of deaths 1. Way more than even the worst flu year (and that’s with lockdowns, travel bans, and mask mandates). Enough people have died that the overall life expectancy has dropped by a full year. To put that in context, the last time it dropped by more than a year was during World War 2.
To conclude, COVID is a big deal and the least you can do is wear a mask when you go to the store. And if you can’t handle that, may I recommend online shopping.
The QAnon Conspiracy Theorist
You Think: That’s all fake news! You can’t trust the media, public health officials, or anyone other than Trump. The death rates are being exaggerated, hydroxychloroquine treatments are being suppressed, and the pandemic is just a hoax designed by Bill Gates to implant tiny microchips so the government can track us.
My response: Wow. So much to unpack here. If you’re a believer of QAnon, news articles or statistics are unlikely to change your mind. But maybe it’s worth considering Trump’s own experience with COVID-19.
After months of downplaying the risks and refusing to wear a mask, Trump himself tested positive for COVID-19 back in October of 2020. He was hospitalized, needed oxygen, got the world’s best treatment, and almost ended up on a ventilator. It’s worth noting that his treatment did not include hydroxychloroquine 🤔, but it did include remdesivir, dexamethasone, and an experimental immune booster called Regeneron.
And even though Trump continued to publicly downplay the severity of the disease after he left hospital (he couldn’t look weak on the campaign trail), one of the last things he (quietly) did before leaving the White House was to get vaccinated. Yes, Trump the leader of the resistance to the global world order of lizard people got the COVID vaccine. Maybe if Trump, someone who already went through COVID-19 once, thinks the vaccine is worth getting then you should too.
1 Note: Not all of those excess deaths are directly caused by COVID-19. The pandemic and lockdowns have significantly changed our lives in big ways – like our access to healthcare, driving patterns, substance abuse, and stress levels. How this affects deaths is complicated. Less driving means less deaths due to air pollution but ironically more fatal car accidents. And while everyone’s mental health has suffered, suicide rates have surprisingly not increased.
2 Note: I am not an epidemiologist. I’ve never studied infectious diseases. If you want real medical advice, talk to a doctor.