FactCheck.org Debunks Coronavirus Myths

*This post on coronavirus myths was updated April 1.

Since China first reported an atypical cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan in December 2019, the internet has been swarming with myths and rumors. Since then, the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) responsible for the outbreak of the disease has infected people across the globe, giving rise to a pandemic that has drastically altered everyday life for hundreds of millions of people.

As of April 2020, the death toll in the United States from the coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, topped 4,000 and there were more than 200,000 confirmed infections.

To combat misinformation about the virus, the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org has published an ongoing series of articles debunking rumors and online hoaxes and countering common misunderstandings, mistruths, and misstatements by politicians.

The complete series of FactCheck.org’s posts on coronavirus — more than 65 to date — can be found here.

FactCheck.org’s work debunking coronavirus myths has been cited by news organizations across the world and its fact-checkers have been interviewed by English-language stations serving Korean and Chinese audiences. The site has been widely credited as a reliable source of information on the virus and FactCheck.org’s science writer, Jessica McDonald, topped a list of the “most credible journalists on COVID-19” in a blog published by The Factual, a site that rates the credibility of news stories.

Here are some recent coronavirus myths and misstatements, as debunked by the team at FactCheck.org:

Illustration of the coronavirus used in story about how FactCheck.org debunks coronavirus myths.
This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Credit: Alissa Eckert, MS, Dan Higgins, MAM.
  • In a March 21 press briefing, President Donald Trump prematurely declared that automakers, including Ford and General Motors, were manufacturing much needed ventilators “right now.” Though both companies have taken the preliminary steps needed to either independently manufacture these machines or partner with healthcare manufacturers, as of March 30, they have not yet produced ventilators needed to treat coronavirus symptoms. (See Trump’s Premature Claim about Ventilator Production)
  • Many social media posts and a few foreign health ministers have propagated the belief that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, exacerbate the symptoms of COVID-19 to make the patient more susceptible to pneumonia. At this time, this idea is merely an untested hypothesis; there is no evidence that ibuprofen or other NSAIDs worsen COVID-19’s symptoms. (No Evidence to Back COVID-19 Ibuprofen Concerns)
  • Facebook posts falsely claim that House Democrats included $25 million in funding for salary increases in their version of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Not only does the Republican-controlled Senate have a $25 million allowance for the House, but, as a House Appropriations Committee spokesman said, “The funding is to support the House’s capability to telework, including for the purchase of equipment and improvements to the network.” (False Claim of Congressional Pay Raises in Stimulus Bill)
  • President Donald Trump has enthusiastically pushed the use of two malaria drugs — chloroquine and its derivative, hydroxychloroquine — to treat COVID-19. However, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has cautioned that much of the evidence is anecdotal and has said controlled clinical trials are needed to see if the drugs are effective. (Trump Hypes Potential COVID-19 Drugs, But Evidence So Far Is Slim)
  • Some social media posts claim that a vaccine is available for the coronavirus. That’s “bogus” (Matthew Frieman, a coronavirus researcher at the University of Maryland). These posts refer to patents for different viruses. (Social Media Posts Spread Bogus Coronavirus Conspiracy Theory)
  • Social media sites and blogs have propagated the myth that “thousands” to “10,000” deaths from the coronavirus had gone unreported because of Chinese government censorship. When FactCheck.org published its story on Jan. 27, the estimated death toll was 81. (Misinformation on Coronavirus Death Toll)
  • Social media posts erroneously claimed that a Chinese husband-and-wife spy team working in a Canadian government lab sent “pathogens to the Wuhan facility” before the outbreak of the coronavirus. FactCheck.org contacted spokespeople for Canada’s Public Health Agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; both agencies decried the claims as false. (Coronavirus Wasn’t Sent by ‘Spy’ From Canada)
  • Posts on Twitter and Facebook falsely suggest that because Clorox and Lysol products list “Human Coronavirus” on their bottles, the novel coronavirus was already known by scientists.  In this case, “Human Coronavirus” refers to a group of viruses, and Clorox and Lysol products were tested against a strain of human coronavirus that causes the human cold, not the novel coronavirus behind the outbreak in Wuhan. (No, Clorox and Lysol Didn’t Already ‘Know’ About New Coronavirus)
  • In a comprehensive Q&A, FactCheck.org sums up what is known about the novel coronavirus’s origins, symptoms, death toll, transmission, and U.S. cases. (Q&A on the Coronavirus Pandemic)

Cited by news media

The articles, in which FactCheck.org debunks coronavirus myths, led by McDonald and staff writers Saranac Hale Spencer and Angelo Fichera, have been cited on domestic and international news sites, including:

  • “The false information was posted on January 21, and was still up a week later on a public page, despite being linked to in a story by the Factcheck.org about it and other posts spreading inaccurate information on Facebook. The post has been shared 4,800 times, and has 432 comments. One comment to the false Facebook post includes a link to a website that calls the coronavirus itself a hoax and suggests that drinking Corona beer alone will cure the virus. Facebook formed an alliance with media outlets and other fact checkers, including FactCheck.org, to help it determine what news was false and either remove the posts or label them as false.” (Jan. 29, 2020, CBS News)
  • “On Jan. 25, hedge fund manager Kyle Bass tweeted this version of the hoax. His tweet was retweeted over 12,000 times and has gone viral as a screenshot on Facebook. Factcheck.org, one of the platform’s official independent fact-checking organizations, debunked it, and on Facebook, screenshots of Bass’s tweet now appear with a ‘false information’ disclaimer. Eric Morrissette, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada, told Factcheck.org, ‘this is misinformation and there is no factual basis for claims being made on social media.’” (Jan. 31, 2020, BuzzFeed)
  • “The nonprofit website FactCheck.org, which has a partnership with Facebook that allows users to flag fake news, has also been debunking false clams linked to the virus, such as one that claims that it was made in a lab and a vaccine was available.” (Jan. 31, 2020, MarketWatch)

Other news outlets that have cited or republished FactCheck.org’s articles include: