One of the most dangerous aspects of the pandemic is the steady flow of falsehoods and disinformation being distributed across social media. In particular, on Facebook, articles that promote supposed ‘cures’ create false narratives about the virus’ transmission, or evoke racial hostilities towards certain ethnic groups that can be misleading at best, and destructive at worse. Especially as many Americans are itching to break quarantine and have things go back the way they were, we need decisive action and enforcement of stay-at-home orders.
Indeed, a huge boost to disinformation can be seen in the clash between public officials who want their jurisdictions to resume economic activity, and the scientists and sociologists who understand the need to have a carefully phased plan that will limit the possibility of another outbreak. Disagreement is allowed and present in a democracy, but the state of affairs demands a central authority that limits citizen activity, in hopes of saving lives.
There is, in fact, an economic argument for keeping us sheltered in place, despite the naysayers. According to a study done by the University of Chicago, the economic benefits of social distancing comes out to be “about $8 trillion or $60,000 per U.S. household,” along with the moral and medical benefits of not exposing the population to a deadly virus. This analysis takes into account the price of healthcare, the economic costs of death, and a whole host of other factors that separate the two possibilities of an ‘open’ or ‘closed’ society.
Another paper by MIT and the Federal Reserve looked closely at the 1918 pandemic and found that American cities with stricter non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI’s) showed a correlation between fewer deaths and less job turnover and loss. What’s more, “cities with stricter NPIs during the pandemic perform better in the year after the pandemic,” illustrating the benefits of weathering the economic storm until the cause passes.
But the misinformation continues to appear, as there are a wide variety of motives to lie, cheat, and con during a pandemic, as ne’er-do-wells seek to profit off of the vulnerable. In mid-March, we saw profiteers who bought up as much toilet paper and hand sanitizer as they could in hopes of selling it online, only to be foiled by the price-gouging software that Amazon has used to prevent sellers from profiting off the crisis. Scammers have taken advantage of the stimulus checks that the government has sent to millions of taxpayers, convincing the vulnerable to hand over their banking information in a false promise for a $1200 check. Even the Health and Human Services Department weathered a cyberattack in mid-March that was allegedly committed by a foreign state, illustrating that cybercrime has increased during a time where we are spending more time on our phones and computers.
What’s most frustrating in this new era we’ve entered is the callousness of politicians in this time of crisis. Florida Governor Ron Desantis opened Jacksonville beaches last week, and was about to begin Phase 1 of reopening when the Florida Department of Health reported over 600 new cases. Governor Tate Reeves was also planning to reopen Mississippi, arguing that “federal models may not be applicable to our state,” but has since halted plans to reopen after a surge in fatalities.
Even the Mayor of Las Vegas went on air to defend her plan to open casinos, saying that it was “up to them [the casinos]” to figure out how to avoid viral contamination within their institutions, letting the chips fall where they may. I can’t even call it a gamble, because the result is certain: people will die in jurisdictions that let their citizens roam free, as the virus continues to spread until it thins the herd.
While I’m unfortunately not surprised, it’s difficult to know who to trust during this global pandemic. The lack of unity among local, state, and especially federal officials is frankly astonishing and disheartening. We have a right to expect our government to be doing everything it can to combat a national security threat that affects the entire country, but until then, it’s important to remain vigilant and rely on trusted sources.
The CDC’s website is one of the best for getting information about COVID-19, death tolls, and viral hotspots across the country. The W.H.O. is also reliable, along with a number of other trusted sources (NPR, Vox, the New York Times, and the Washington Post) that are focused on providing reliable information from epidemiologists and other experts in the field of health. It’s also worth avoiding social media as a source of news, and remaining in quarantine until the rate of infections goes down. The OWP sends its condolences to those who have lost friends and family to COVID-19.
For more information about COVID-19, go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html