Fact check: Viral post that claims COVID-19 is a fraud cites no evidence
The claim: COVID-19 is a 'fraud'
Misinformation about the new coronavirus has been rampant on social media, further perpetuated by the conspiracy theory movement QAnon.
Claims about the effectiveness of masks and the symptoms, origin and meaning of COVID-19 all contribute to a larger false claim: COVID-19 is not real.
One Facebook post claimed COVID-19 is a "fraud," listing seven vague reasons why and citing no sources or evidence. The poster did not respond to a request for comment.
The reasons, according to the post: "COVID-19 is NOT killing people, weak immune systems and bad doctors are. The tests are rigged. The death count is false. Masks are useless. Hand sanitizer is toxic. Vaccines are poison. The government and media are lying."
We'll assess the truth of each claim.
'COVID-19 is NOT killing people, weak immune systems and bad doctors are'
The claim that COVID-19 is not a cause of death gained traction in late summer, when the Centers for Disease Controland Prevention released statistics about the impact of preexisting conditions on those who contract the virus.
We rate this claim as false, as it has been debunked in fact checks. Though a preexisting condition or comorbidity may have exacerbated or contributed to the cause of death, it is not the sole reason why someone died.
For example, those with asthma are at a higher risk of complications from COVID-19. If they contracted the virus and died, their asthma didn't kill them, the virus did.
There is no known cure for the virus, so doctors and nurses work to treat and manage the virus using various practices that have proven effective.
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'The tests are rigged'
The post did not specify how coronavirus tests are supposedly rigged. Regardless, there is not a massive global conspiracy to deliver inaccurate results or skew data.
Testing availability and reporting of cases vary by city and state and even further by universities or school districts.
Scientists and medical experts explained that we learn more about the virus every day, including how testing accuracy can be improved and how effective mitigation efforts are.
Our ruling: This claim is false. There is not a large-scale conspiracy effort to falsify the results of coronavirus tests. As scientists and public health experts learn more about the virus, testing accuracy improves.
'The death count is false'
The post did not clarify whether the death count was inflated or reduced.
The death toll from COVID-19 in the USA has surpassed 216,000, and the international death toll has passed 1 million.
Conspiracy theories argue the death toll has been inflated, but experts say it's probably the opposite, citing lack of testing, false negatives and uncounted home deaths.
Our ruling: This claim is false. Though the post did not specify how the death count is supposedly false, context clues would point to the post claiming the death count has been exaggerated. Health experts say the exact opposite, COVID-19 deaths may be significantly undercounted.
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'Masks are useless'
When the U.S. outbreak started, health officials and organizations said masks needed to be reserved for health care workers, given the shortage of personal protective equipment.
Masks have been very effective in helping to slow the transmission of COVID-19. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, said masks may be more helpful than a vaccine in the fight against the virus.
"These face masks are the most important powerful public health tool we have," Redfield said.
Our ruling: This claim is false. Scientists and other public health officials have made it clear – and research has confirmed – that masks are the most effective way to slow the transmission of the coronavirus.
'Hand sanitizer is toxic'
Despite many warnings at the local and national level, some Americans are still ingesting cleaning and bleach products in an attempt to self-treat the virus.
When used properly, hand sanitizer – like other cleaning products – is not toxic.
That being said, it's important that consumers are informed about the products they purchase. In July, the Food and Drug Administration warned the American public to avoid various imported hand sanitizers, citing reports of injuries – both from general use and ingestion – associated with the products.
The FDA has a running list of hand-sanitizing products that should be avoided.
Our ruling: This claim is partly false. Hand sanitizer, when used appropriately, is not "toxic." Consumers should refer to the FDA list of imported sanitizers to stay informed about the products they should avoid.
'Vaccines are poison'
The anti-vaccine movement has been on the rise, and many of its claims are being directed at the COVID-19 vaccine before it is released.
Generally speaking, the anti-vax movement believes that vaccines are poisonous and dangerous, which is not accurate.
According to the CDC, the general cycle for the development of vaccines has six stages: exploratory, preclinical, clinical development, regulatory review and approval, manufacturing and quality control.
Development of a typical vaccine can take years, but because of factors such as prioritization and global interest, the COVID-19 vaccine timeline may be much shorter.
To ensure that the vaccine is safe, the same strict protocol is followed.
According to the World Health Organization, as of Sept. 22, there are 38 vaccines in the clinical evaluation stage, and 149 are in the preclinical evaluation.
Our ruling: This claim is false. Despite what the anti-vax movement says, vaccines are not released to the public until they are safe. The United States has a strict policy for vaccine development and approval, which the COVID-19 vaccine must abide by.
'The government and media are lying'
Since the statement is vague and the person who posted it did not respond to request for comment, it's hard to know what exactly the person claims the government and media are lying about.
Though government officials or media outlets may inaccurately report points, the facts about the new coronavirus are simple.
First and foremost, COVID-19 is a real virus. There are more than 38 million reported infections globally.
The elderly and those with preexisting conditions are more susceptible to complications from the virus, but good health and youth don't guarantee a complication-free experience.
According to medical experts, the best mitigation strategy is to wear masks in public and socially distance when possible. There is no exact date for the release of a vaccine, but when one is released, it will have followed the appropriate protocol to ensure safety and effectiveness.
Our ruling: This claim is false. Though there are politicians and reports that don't tell the full story or misconstrue facts, neither the government or the media are working to misinform the public about the coronavirus.
Our rating: False
Overall, the claims in this post are FALSE, based on our research. Each claim has been debunked by medical experts and organizations. Only a portion of the claim on hand sanitizer has a bit of truth, that consumers should be wary of some ingredients. The overarching statement that sanitizer is toxic is unfounded. The post did not provide any citations or evidence to support the claims.
Our fact check sources:
- USA TODAY, Sept. 1, 2020, Fact check: CDC's data on COVID-19 deaths used incorrectly in misleading claims
- CDC, Weekly Updates by Select Demographic and Geographic Characteristics
- Poynter, March 12, 2020, Hoaxes about coronavirus tests have political uses and can push patients away
- Johns Hopkins, COVID-19 dashboard
- USA TODAY, April 17, 2020, Fact check: Is US coronavirus death toll inflated? Experts agree it's likely the opposite
- Wired, July 2, 2020, How Masks Went From Don’t-Wear to Must-Have
- CBS News, Sept. 18, 2020, CDC director says face masks may offer more protection against COVID than a vaccine. Here's what other experts say
- AP News, July 27, 2020, FDA Warns Americans of Toxic Hand Sanitizers
- Mayo Clinic, Sept. 10, 2020, COVID-19 (coronavirus) vaccine: Get the facts
- World Health Organization, Sept. 22, 2020, Draft landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines
- FDA, FDA updates on hand sanitizers consumers should not use
- Public Health, Vaccine Myths Debunked
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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.