Fact Check: Coronavirus Public Health Issue Being Used As Political Platform

Photo: Xinhua

The global spread of COVID-19, sometimes referred to as the coronavirus pandemic, as well as a variety of news coverage and conspiracy theories has instilled fear and concern among citizens as well as a global slump in the stock market. It also has been used by opportunistic politicians looking to leverage the public health issue as a mechanism to lay blame on their political opponents, which has led to a number of public statements and accusations that are misleading or outright false.

Michael Bloomberg: “There’s nobody here to figure out what the hell we should be doing. And he’s defunded — he’s defunded Centers for Disease Control, CDC, so we don’t have the organization we need.”

Joe Biden: “We increased the budget of the CDC. We increased the NIH budget. He’s wiped all that out. He cut the funding for the entire effort.”

Fact Check: Congress controls the budget for the CDC. The power of the purse is vested in the Congress as laid down in the Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 9, Clause 7, the Appropriations clause. In reality, budgets to the CDC and NIH have increased. “The CDC’s response has been excellent, as it has been in the past,” said John Auerbach, president of the nonpartisan Trust for America’s Health, a foundation that works to improve the nation’s response to health crises.

Claim: President Donald Trump stated that the spread of the coronavirus is a “hoax.”

Fact Check: Trump clarified in a press conference. “I’m not talking about what’s happening here. I’m talking what they’re doing. That’s the hoax. That’s just a continuation of the hoax, whether it’s the impeachment hoax or ‘Russia, Russia, Russia’ hoax. This is what I’m talking about. Certainly not referring to this. How could anybody refer to this? This is very serious,” Trump said.

Trump’s press conference today was further fact checked by the Washington Post, making it clear that the entire health issue has a cloud of politics over what is at its essence a public health issue. With the first recorded death from COVID-19 in the United States confirmed today, the House Appropriations Committee is working on presenting a new budget that would allocate funds to fight the virus.

Claim: An infected Korean Air flight attendant dined at numerous restaurants in Los Angeles Koreatown, which could lead to an infection of anyone dining in that community.

Fact Check: The South Korean consulate published a statement that the flight attendant did not visit any restaurants in Los Angeles Koreatown. Also, cooking causes a breakdown (denaturing) of the protein envelopes that hold the coronavirus together, effectively “killing” the virus. So cooked food is not a vector for infection. An infected restaurant employee or fellow patron, however, could spread the virus through causal contact, but that is possible anywhere in public, not just restaurants.

The facts about the virus itself are the same as when it was first reported earlier this year. The virus is easily spread like the common cold, and everyone must take care to wash their hands regularly with soap and water, and avoid touching eyes, mouth, and nose with dirty hands. Also, because the virus is zoonotic (can spread through animals as well as humans), contact with infected animals should be avoided.

Because the virus is new, there is not a lot of history of the virus, but so far there is enough to determine its approximate relative danger. The mortality rate of COVID-19 is currently estimated at 1%, roughly 10 times greater than influenza. So while hundreds of thousands die from influenza each year, that is because millions are infected. This makes COVID-19 particularly dangerous for those who have compromised immune systems either due to preexisting conditions or from old age.

Face masks do not grant immunity to the virus, which is spread similar to the common cold when viral particles are carried between people by liquid droplets produced from a sneeze, cough, runny nose, dirty hands, or other contact. Viral particles could be spread through casual contact, and then if the nose, eyes, or mouth are exposed to those particles, the virus could infect that individual.

All viruses have an incubation period, that is the time between the initial infection and the display of symptoms. Currently COVID-19 incubation is estimated at 1 to 14 days, so it could be up to two weeks before symptoms are present after being exposed to the virus. Even if no symptoms are present, an individual could be contagious by shedding viral particles that are able to spread the disease to others.

Researchers are working on effective treatments for COVID-19, but this will take some time to develop, as vaccines need a way to deal with mutations that target viruses may use to adapt to their environment.