Fact check: 5G technology is not linked to coronavirus

The claim: 5G has been increasing and even causing the spread of coronavirus across the globe

Conspiracy theories that the novel coronavirus is caused by new telecommunications technology have gained traction over the past few weeks, despite a consensus among experts that such claims are wrong.

Viral posts on social media alleging that COVID-19 is either caused or exasperated by 5G technology have spread. Other posts allege that the virus itself is a cover-up for the adverse health impacts experienced from 5G exposure.

Multiple celebrities have shared posts claiming that 5G causes serious illness, circulating false reports and doctored video in the process. Arsonists in several countries have burned down 5G cell towers, on a belief they help spread the new coronavirus. There is no evidence to support these claims; in fact, experts now agree that 5G poses no significant medical risks.

Claims that 5G poses health risks have circulated since the technology was in early development. But allegations the novel coronavirus is related to the spread of 5G have proliferated as the disease reached pandemic levels.

5G and human health

5G, or fifth-generation wireless technology, is a new global wireless standard being deployed around the world now. While previous mobile network generations relied on lower frequency wavelengths being transmitted across wider areas, the standard 5G spectrum is about a factor of 10 — an order of magnitude — higher than the previous four generations of cell networks. That increased information flow, coupled with more accurate antenna connectivity and decreased latency, makes a range of new real-time operations possible over the network.

"The frequencies of 5G waves are so much lower in power and still four orders of magnitude, or 10,000 times less, than ionizing waves, which are known to possibly be carcinogenic in large doses," Ted Rappaport, an electrical engineer, and professor at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering and School of Medicine told USA TODAY.

“It’s important for people to realize that the ultraviolet waves from the sun are many thousand times higher frequency than 5G. People should be more concerned about wearing sunscreen outside than using their 5G cellphones,” he continued.

"Nothing has been scientifically demonstrated that links electromagnetic radiation and virus proliferation," Richard Kuhn, a professor of virology at Purdue University, told USA TODAY. "This is true not only for COVID-19 but also for other known human viruses."

“A worldwide online conspiracy theory has attempted to link 5G cellphone technology as being one of the causes of the coronavirus. Many cell towers outside of the U.S. have been set on fire as a result. 5G technology does NOT cause coronavirus,” the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Federal Communication Commission jointly emphasize on an "Coronavirus Rumor Control" page of FEMA's website.

The World Health Organization issued a similar statement dispelling myths that 5G is caused by the coronavirus. “Viruses cannot travel on radio waves/mobile networks. COVID-19 is spreading in many countries that do not have 5G mobile networks,” the WHO said on its website.

“COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. People can also be infected by touching a contaminated surface and then their eyes, mouth or nose.”

Standard 5G frequencies were also ruled safe by the International Commission on Non‐Ionizing Radiation Protection, an organization of scientists that reviews the health risks posed by lower frequency electromagnetic waves.

“We know parts of the community are concerned about the safety of 5G, and we hope the updated guidelines will help put people at ease,” ICNIRP Chairman Dr. Eric van Rongen said of the group’s new standards, which identify the millimeter-wavelengths to be used for 5G as safe.

“The technologies and frequencies that are being used in 5G are not things that we haven’t seen before,” Muriel Médard, a professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told USA TODAY. “They may have been used in different ways, or went unused for economic reasons, but there is nothing here where we’re opening Pandora’s Box and don’t know what’s in it.”

“There has been a considerable amount of speculation on social media about a link between 5G and the COVID-19 pandemic,” Joel M. Moskowitz, a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health who has been critical of 5G, told USA TODAY.

“Since there is no bioeffects or health effects research on 5G, I personally think it is irresponsible to publicize these theories during a pandemic when many people are highly anxious and conspiracy theories are rampant. People are spreading this virus. If there is a link with the pandemic, it would be disruption of the immune system caused by exposure to various types of nonionizing electromagnetic fields, not just 5G radiation.”

“I’ve seen hysteria at the application of previous generations of telecommunications before, but nothing compared to what we’ve seen with 5G. The concerns are absolutely unfounded based on everything that I know and have studied,” Rappaport said of conspiracies about alleged health risks posed by 5G.

Our ruling: False

We rate this claim FALSE because it is not supported by our research. There is no evidence of a connection between the novel coronavirus and 5G telecommunications networks. Various conspiracy theories have surfaced attempting to connect the pandemic to the rise of 5G; these claims do not appear to be rooted in facts. Experts across academic disciplines, as well as officials from multiple nations, agree the new mobile networks are not responsible for the current health crisis.

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A semiconductor chip with 5G emblazoned on the center amid other circuitry.