How the coronavirus rumor mill can thrive in private group chats
March 6, 2020 8:04 AM   Subscribe

Social media platforms work to fight coronavirus myths, but they may not be able to win against your DMs. With the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak still so new, fear of the death and disruption it could cause rapidly mounting, and treatments for it still a big question mark, rumors and misinformation about the outbreak are starting to spread. A wary public might be especially susceptible to believing unverified rumors about how the outbreak began (nope, the new coronavirus wasn’t created in a lab) or taking misguided measures to protect themselves (unless you’re sick or caring for someone who is, face masks aren’t the answer!). And buying into alarmist falsehoods can be dangerous. The spread of misinformation is already commonplace on social media, where the sharing of content from biased sources frequently outpaces whatever fact-checking and moderation safeguards are in place. Which is why coronavirus myths are starting to crop up on both Facebook and Twitter, along with YouTube and TikTok and messaging apps like WhatsApp.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (92 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
And an alleged president who publicly speculates it might be ok to go to work if infected.
posted by shnarg at 8:13 AM on March 6 [14 favorites]


> unless you’re sick or caring for someone who is, face masks aren’t the answer!

Face masks are great for keeping you from touching your face. We have to fly in 2 weeks with toddlers that are thumbsuckers. Bet your ass they're wearing masks (we got 'em Hello Kitty ones) to act as thumb barriers. We grownups will be wearing masks for solidarity and to lead by example. None of us have any allusions that the masks are for anything except physical barriers against face-touching.
posted by davelog at 8:15 AM on March 6 [13 favorites]


Mrs. Cardinal Fang is at the supermarket right now, and is sending me pictures of other people's shopping trolleys, piled high with toilet rolls, paper towels, tinned tuna and corned beef, chocolate bars, cleaning products, etc. ...
posted by Cardinal Fang at 8:18 AM on March 6 [6 favorites]


I’m scared I’ll lose my job and scared I might die from the virus

Not to be all “this exposes the absurd contractions in our society” but look at all these absurd contractions being exposed, here, in society.
posted by The Whelk at 8:19 AM on March 6 [41 favorites]


The Vox article about the rumors the virus was started in a lab is very good, and links to this paper posted at virological.org, The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2, which is thoughtful and interesting biology. The most directly relevant section is "Theories of SARS-CoV-2 origins."
posted by mediareport at 8:31 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


There is a lot we can do to push our social networks to the good just by speaking up. I keep hearing from friends/family “I’ll be fine even if I get it, I don’t need to stock up.” Reframing this for them as “sure, you’ll be fine but you want to avoid passing it to your elderly neighbor or someone at CVS at the same time as you who has cancer, that’s why you would be asked to stay inside. If you have the means and ability to prepare now then please prepare now.”

Especially if you’re usually the one in your networks who’s reliable or no-bullshit, or doesn’t usually post about news stuff. Now is a good time to use that social credit.

This hell of it is a whole bunch of us could already have it at this point given the delay in symptoms, and it’s still not clear whether/how often someone can pass the virus while asymptomatic. But that’s no reason not to try.
posted by sallybrown at 8:33 AM on March 6 [20 favorites]


I'm still wondering if the weird cold I got last month was the coronavirus, but I really have no way of knowing or proving it. I went from feeling awesome all day to sick as hell in under 8 hours after sleeping, it felt like a very mild flu, and my lungs are still weirdly weak 4 weeks later despite being a runner and non-smoker (so theoretically my lungs are strong but who knows). It felt worse than a cold but not quite a flu, and the lung congestion was particularly rough whereas my head congestion was not. I wonder if there is a way to get retroactively tested.
posted by Young Kullervo at 8:37 AM on March 6 [8 favorites]


In the break room at work yesterday, I overheard an astonishing amount of misinformation, including:

- Lots of cases in a nursing home in Washington, DC (it's in Washington State)
- A case in at Wake Forest University (the case is in Wake County)
- A group of Chinese men visiting were "scary" and people just want to be "cautious" (that's not how infectious disease works!!!!!)

Given these big gaps in basic reading/listening comprehension, who knows what else people are thinking out there. I can't imagine being so worried as to take (the wrong) preventative measures, yet not so worried as to seek out accurate information and learn as much as you can.
posted by witchen at 8:46 AM on March 6 [8 favorites]


All you have to do is look at the AskMes here on the subject, which range from "good questions that don't actually have definitive answers out there for us" to "um....what?"
posted by praemunire at 9:04 AM on March 6 [12 favorites]


I was traveling last week, and met up with some dear friends who joined me. A couple times we all discussed how I have a huge over-stuffed pantry thanks to being a big fan of cooking; however, my friends also joked that this also made me "well prepared" for the whole societal breakdown that they seemed absolutely convinced was on the horizon.

I get that some degree of stocking-up can help, so that you're good for easy meals if you have to hunker down for a couple weeks, but the degree to which people are stocking up makes me wonder if people think the Coronavirus is something like a weeklong sharnado or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:07 AM on March 6 [7 favorites]


The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
posted by amtho at 9:09 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


Seriously - now I'm worried that people panicking is a serious threat.
posted by amtho at 9:19 AM on March 6 [13 favorites]


The panic is often more of a problem than the actual problem. Our brains seem wired to drastically underestimate threats not jammed into our faces and drastically overestimate them once the herd starts freaking out.
posted by praemunire at 9:23 AM on March 6 [14 favorites]


Last week I saw a fb post from a guy saying he was stocking up on ammunition so that he "can just take food and supplies from others."
posted by bz at 9:24 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


A common gun nut fantasy.
posted by tiny frying pan at 9:24 AM on March 6 [30 favorites]


I'm in a discussion on Facebook with a family member where I called out his posting a wildly inaccurate chart that purported to show COVID-19 was no big deal. It's driving me crazy. We've gotten to the point where he's admitted maybe some of the data is wrong, but he's still questioning what the real data is. And then he's said "it doesn't matter the larger point is true COVID is no big deal".

The fake data fits his political worldview, so it's still real enough for him. Is there any way to have a meaningful discussion about simple numerical facts?
posted by Nelson at 9:25 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


"...'m worried that people panicking is a serious threat."

It is. In a lot of different ways.

And for the people confused about all the people into the misinformation. Look at the last 5 - 10 years and re-think that. It's not just about politics.
posted by aleph at 9:25 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


"Is there any way to have a meaningful discussion about simple numerical facts?"

No. For them it's about a lot more than the facts. So, facts really don't help (much). There are exceptions but it's a numbers game and the numbers aren't good :(
posted by aleph at 9:27 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


One of my favorite expressions is "Man is not a rational animal. Man is a *rationalizing* animal."

(Apologies for the "Man" use for people but it fits the first part which I used to see quite a bit. Funny thing, don't see it much anymore. )
posted by aleph at 9:31 AM on March 6 [12 favorites]


Wear a bandana on your face if you are not a health worker or other who actually needs an n95 mask. It will give you protection and that protection will be about the same as a n95 mask outside of a hospital setting and in your untrained hands. Keep a few of them, change them out ever 2-3 hours and wash them daily.
posted by interogative mood at 9:32 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


Washing your hands with soap before and after you change your mask is also a good idea.

In fact, that's very likely much more effective than the mask itself.
posted by bonehead at 9:43 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


There's the opposite side of this, where people are parroting trump talking points about this not being a big deal. The extreme (and even moderate) downsides of an outbreak are awful, and the main burden would fall first on the vulnerable, but then slowly work its way up the class ladder. There should be wide-scale testing, there should be plans in place for containing the virus, there should be a measured response by officials to urge calmness and rationality in dealing with the spread of the virus. A common way that CHUDs shrug this off is pointing to other media frenzies about various viruses, except they tend to miss the fact that in their countries of origins those pandemics killed thousands of people and were only stopped from spreading in the U.S. through competent public health responses. Further, they were only then stopped or mitigated in their countries of origin through massive concentrated efforts that cost millions of dollars in time, effort, and suffering that absolutely dwarf the cost a decent initial response would have cost.

There hasn't been any of that. Instead, falsehoods and mismanagement have made people distrust officials. I was listening to the radio, and the DJ reported a CDC warning about masks being more effective for preventing infected people from spreading the disease instead of healthy people from contracting it, and the DJ said, "Yeah, and at first they said that this was no big deal, too, and look where we are now. Send me a mask if you get one!" In a way she's not wrong - the trump CDC response is bad, and makes any good information they give also suspect.

I think panicked hoarding of goods is a function of larger mismanagement. People want to feel like they can do something to protect themselves, but instead of having a clear model of action from a neutral and authoritative government agency (which has been deliberately tainted by mismanagement and a desire to not spook the markets) they have social network sources they actually trust giving them misinformation about something satisfying to do in response to a very real health crisis. A pile of water bottles and toilet paper physically exists as evidence that you have done something, sort of like an amulet or a spell.

This article talks about some likely scenarios if the virus is not contained. Even the option with the least downside (this virus sticks around for a few years before general immunity builds and it becomes a 'mundane' corona virus) seems incredibly harmful to immunocompromised individuals, who apparently have just been deemed a suitable sacrifice to not making our totally stable and not at all casino-like economy too scared of reality. The less likely, but more dangerous outcomes are unimaginably awful, but the trump administration has decided to roll the dice on those just to keep Wallstreet pumping along.
posted by codacorolla at 9:52 AM on March 6 [37 favorites]


The panic is often more of a problem than the actual problem. Our brains seem wired to drastically underestimate threats not jammed into our faces and drastically overestimate them once the herd starts freaking out.

Yeah, my barista this morning was SERIOUSLY worried about how this pandemic will effect the food industry and thus threaten his job which, I dunno, I would be mildly concerned about also if it was a significant or primary source of income for me. He's usually a chill fellow so seeing him this anxious about something was really disturbing and I wasn't sure how to respond.
posted by Young Kullervo at 9:52 AM on March 6 [7 favorites]




I just flew from Vanuatu through Fiji and LAX to Toronto. The amount of concern at the airports was practically zero. Fiji they checked the temperature of everyone getting on a plane and one had to fill in a form about health and travel when flying into that country, but at the other two airports, the question of where I'd travelled or how I was feeling was not asked by any agent whatsoever.
posted by dobbs at 10:06 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


Face masks ARE NOT good for preventing face-touching. They make you touch your face MORE, because you’re always frigging around adjusting it. Plus they breed bacteria.

Just stop with the BS, people.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 10:07 AM on March 6 [13 favorites]


My sister in Toronto sent me a message this morning: "I literally need a basic amount of toilet paper and I can't find any." My local grocery store in Victoria BC is also running low.

I don't understand the toilet paper hoarding, of all things...
posted by torisaur at 10:19 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


I don't understand the toilet paper hoarding, of all things...

I've seen the rationale that people are preparing for potential quarantines or extended sick leave. I would imagine doubly so where multiple family members in a household are also house-bound. I don't think it's wise, but there is a certain logic to it.
posted by codacorolla at 10:21 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


There's been some concern about supply chain issues from China meaning that there may not be enough essentials shipped to meet demand.
posted by Selena777 at 10:23 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


Face masks ARE NOT good for preventing face-touching. They make you touch your face MORE, because you’re always frigging around adjusting it. Plus they breed bacteria.

Just stop with the BS, people.


Well, citation is needed there before you accuse people of BS. This NYT article about how not to touch your face quotes an MD who says otherwise.

Dr. Justin Ko, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at Stanford Health, said he tells patients who wear contact lenses to consider wearing glasses instead to discourage them from rubbing their eyes. “Similarly,” he said, “while masks are not very effective for preventing virus transmission, they can be quite helpful for providing a physical barrier against touching the nose or mouth.”

However, right now, there is a mask shortage and healthcare workers need to take priority. So people still should not buy masks.
posted by snowmentality at 10:33 AM on March 6 [9 favorites]


I don't understand the toilet paper hoarding, of all things...

I don't understand the water hoarding. It's a virus, not flooding. The pipes and water supply will still all be working just fine.

But I dunno, people are irrational. It's been years, yet I still distinctly remember the guy that had a entire shopping cart filled with papaya juice when people were panic buying before a blizzard. Dude needed his vitamin C I guess.
posted by Automocar at 10:46 AM on March 6 [10 favorites]



I don't understand the toilet paper hoarding, of all things...

I don't understand the water hoarding. It's a virus, not flooding. The pipes and water supply will still all be working just fine.


My local Target was encouraging hoarding with a "buy 4 get a $15 gift card.".

And if it spreads enough where regular people start getting sick in mass numbers, it will certainly effect the water supply as city water supplies are actively managed.

I personally think there is middle ground between "not being a big deal" for regular people which means they should not be wearing facemasks or hoarding, but also expecting public health officials to treat it like a big deal to keep the general population safe.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:51 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


Everyone I see with a face mask is constantly adjusting it.
posted by tiny frying pan at 10:54 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


Hopefully the following doesn't read as doomsaying; I'm not meaning it to be.

Kneejerk border closures and quarantines have isolated many of our international students. Many won't be coming back to the program this year, if ever. Huge chunks of American higher ed. are propped up by the tuition dollars from Chinese nationals, and as the Trump US does its usual hamfisted approach to pretty much everything, the combination of stricter/less coherent visa rules and widespread quarantine could very well dry up those dollars - it's already happening in Australia. Even if it's only a semester, higher ed. budgets are tight enough already that a 10% shortfall would well and truly fuck a number of the state and private universities relying on this tuition.

Pandemic is existentially terrifying, but as the backroom chats, misinformation, and FUD keep spreading, I'm having a hard time trying hard to anticipate the impersonal, practical implications of this whole thing on US's "Special Relationship" with China. I haven't seen much writing about this yet, and most of it has been forecasting how this will affect the tech sector. What I haven't seen is much about how it will affect China's food supply, which is frankly much more concerning. We also just really have no idea what happens when a generation of Chinese students being educated overseas are suddenly stuck in the PRC.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:58 AM on March 6 [11 favorites]


And if it spreads enough where regular people start getting sick in mass numbers, it will certainly effect the water supply as city water supplies are actively managed.

I mean, if enough people are home sick to affect municipal water supply management, we're in Captain Tripps territory and we're all doomed.
posted by Automocar at 10:59 AM on March 6 [12 favorites]


I mean the only reason people are panicking and treating this seriously is because we don't know much about it yet and can't predict the actual impact on a local or global scale yet if this becomes a reoccurring virus, like we can with the flu, rather than something we can (ideally) eradicate completely very soon. Public Health Organizations can only give advice based on similar viruses in the same family and based on historic data, but that's still uncertain, thus the freak out. But most people aren't getting their info from those sources anyway!

Honestly though with this scientific uncertainty and the public's general lack of ability to assess real risk, on top of people's ignorant decisions having brought back viruses we once successfully ERADICATED via vaccines, IDK, I don't trust the public in the U.S. to have their best health interests in mind either.
posted by Young Kullervo at 11:11 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


I don't understand the water hoarding. It's a virus, not flooding. The pipes and water supply will still all be working just fine.

I mean, government disaster preparedness pages from the CDC and Ready.gov directly recommend stocking a few days water supply. So anyone who goes looking for standard advice on building a kit will likely do this.

(As far as I can tell these sites are oriented at general preparedness, so the kit is likely designed to take you through earthquake, severe weather events, etc in addition to pandemic. But it’s good advice anyway.)
posted by a device for making your enemy change his mind at 11:27 AM on March 6 [7 favorites]


I mean masks, puh! I just saw a man on the train in Chicago openly pick his nose, then put that same hand on the support pole. I don't feel confident at all about avoiding germs.
posted by tiny frying pan at 11:35 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


I don't understand the water hoarding. It's a virus, not flooding. The pipes and water supply will still all be working just fine.

I did see a few of people in the MetaTalk thread say that the coronavirus fears made them decide to put that earthquake preparedness kit together that they'd been putting off while they were at it. And since most of the cases now are also on the West Coast, prime earthquake territory, it makes sense here.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:38 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


Even Wuhan still has water and electricity.

Absent a mask shortage, I really wish everyone in the US would start wearing masks. It stops you from spreading illness, so there needs to be a critical mass of people wearing them to reduce transmission.

Typical flu is down in HK, and one theory is that because ordinary people took action - masks, handwashing, social distancing - it helped a lot.
posted by airmail at 11:48 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


Someone on my FB feed keeps going on about how the virus is an orchestrated "population control" event, and I posted the Vox article, so now I'm waiting to see if she comments. I mean, just WHY would the capitalist PTB want fewer consumers?? That's so DUMB. (But I promise I won't call her dumb.)

Also, I bought four cases of water today, and almost felt compelled to announce to the entire Office Depot that it was for an event, not prepping.
posted by RedEmma at 12:15 PM on March 6 [7 favorites]


I just saw a man on the train in Chicago openly pick his nose, then put that same hand on the support pole.

metafilter's own
posted by poffin boffin at 1:00 PM on March 6 [15 favorites]


That would be an ironic twist if the emergence of COVID-19 led to net fewer deaths because precautions to avoid it reduced the incidence of flu and the number of people killed by that disease substantially.
posted by haiku warrior at 1:40 PM on March 6 [7 favorites]


YOU GUYS DON'T KNOW HOW MUCH I CONSTANTLY TOUCH MY FACE ALREADY, A MASK WILL REDUCE ACTUAL PHYSICAL CONTACT WITH ALREADY TOUCHING FACE!

/end slightly joking...

If you think people don't touch their faces enough, just look at the actual conferences where they tell us NOT to do so - Pence, that one lady it I think HHS or CDC or something...) in the same sentence "don't touch your face' she licks her finger. Or Pence wiping his nose. Now, Pence, sure. But if the people in charge do this while they tell us this, how many times a day are you touching your face autonomically & subconsciously.

BUT

I do agree:

Make sure the people who ACTUALLY need this get it first, first responders (though hopefully they have better equipment from actual medical supply companies and don't just daunt to the ol Wally World for theirs), elderly, weakened immune systems folks, etc...
posted by symbioid at 1:43 PM on March 6 [4 favorites]


YOU GUYS DON'T KNOW HOW MUCH I CONSTANTLY TOUCH MY FACE ALREADY

Right?!? I never really thought about it before, but my goddamn fingers are in my goddamn mouth all the goddamn time.

Have you seen that gross video of Mike Bloomberg and the pizza boxes? That's me, except there's not even any pizza. I should just bite off and swallow both hands and be done with it.
posted by Don Pepino at 2:07 PM on March 6 [11 favorites]


The Federation of American Scientists has a page for debunking coronavirus misinformation.
posted by peeedro at 2:18 PM on March 6 [8 favorites]


I should just bite off and swallow both hands and be done with it.

i bet stomach acid would kill the virus so technically this isn't as bad an idea as it sounds
posted by poffin boffin at 2:20 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


My sister in Toronto sent me a message this morning: "I literally need a basic amount of toilet paper and I can't find any." My local grocery store in Victoria BC is also running low.

About a month ago I was embarrassed that I had a massive box of Scotts 1000 sheet rolls in my closet that will probably last me about 2 years that I bought because there was an Amazon sale and I misjudged the amount. Today I am an inadvertently well supplied prepper!
posted by srboisvert at 2:45 PM on March 6 [12 favorites]


I mean, government disaster preparedness pages from the CDC and Ready.gov directly recommend stocking a few days water supply.

This. Following expert recommendations about disaster preparation is not "hoarding" or "panic buying".

The experts pretty much all agree that masks are helpful to healthy people -- that is, in the event that they have to care for sick family members. In this increasingly likely situation (I've already been through 3 family member illnesses this winter, one of which was flu A) assuming you've listened to all the advice about not buying masks ahead of time...where do you get a mask?
posted by Ralston McTodd at 2:50 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


The DIY cloth masks seem like a good idea. Any pushback on that?
posted by amtho at 3:59 PM on March 6


For people freaking about touching their face (and want to do something) take a look at:

(snip)
“Don’t touch your face” is an easy command to interpret but, for some of us, a surprisingly hard one to follow even though we have been told it is among the best ways to avoid infection by the coronavirus. A new website hopes to help, by shouting at you if you touch your face.

Donottouchyourface.com uses a simple machine-learning algorithm to recognise images of each individual user touching their face, and not touching their face.

Once it’s been trained, it can be left in an open tab or a minimised window, and uses web notifications to ping you if you touch your face – or, if you leave the window visible, to put a large red NO on screen.
posted by aleph at 4:22 PM on March 6




Even a Liberal like me has a limit to how many Vox articles should be cited in one metafilter post
posted by waving at 7:11 PM on March 6 [7 favorites]


Donottouchyourface.com uses a simple machine-learning algorithm to recognise images of each individual user touching their face, and not touching their face.


if my choices are a privacy invading AI program monitoring my face in real time all day long and selling all my accumulated biometric data to the lowest bidder, or dying bc i touched my face then i'm ready for death
posted by poffin boffin at 8:08 PM on March 6 [29 favorites]


IDK, water supplies also are helpful if you live in a city where the entire infrastructure is held together by duct tape and sass because more than just actively managing water treatment, we also need people to actively manage water pipes just randomly bursting like grapes

Also my building's water sometimes gets a bit fucky so, you know, that's a thing for people who aren't in houses

Not naming any names about what city I mean

(It is New York City)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:01 PM on March 6 [4 favorites]




Is it cancelled yet! A list of professional meetings smd conditions closed.
posted by The Whelk at 10:40 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


There is a lot we can do to push our social networks to the good just by speaking up. I keep hearing from friends/family “I’ll be fine even if I get it, I don’t need to stock up.” Reframing this for them as “sure, you’ll be fine but you want to avoid passing it to your elderly neighbor or someone at CVS at the same time as you who has cancer, that’s why you would be asked to stay inside. If you have the means and ability to prepare now then please prepare now.”

I think that we should exercise caution when encouraging people to prepare, and should try to make sure that people know what a reasonable amount of preparation is. I really appreciated this article. It encourages a sensible and measured approach to preparing - have two weeks worth of supplies, but don't panic buy and don't hoard. Stock up slowly when doing regular shopping.

We really don't need people going out and panic buying excessive amounts of any particular items, leaving none for anyone else. There are already shortages of toilet paper, tissues, hand sanitiser, flour, rice and other items in stores near me.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 12:49 AM on March 7 [6 favorites]


Back at the local supermarket. The toilet roll aisle has been stripped bare.

Coronavirus doesn't give you the shits, or did I miss something...
posted by Cardinal Fang at 2:16 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]




I think that we should exercise caution when encouraging people to prepare, and should try to make sure that people know what a reasonable amount of preparation is. I really appreciated this article. It encourages a sensible and measured approach to preparing - have two weeks worth of supplies, but don't panic buy and don't hoard. Stock up slowly when doing regular shopping.

I like that article a lot, thank you for the link.

A lot of the fear people have is legitimate because of all the unknowns (plus, in the US, the embarrassingly incompetent response at the national level), but there is a lot of fear-mongering going on as well, both in the media and socially. That is unfortunate, because scared people do dumb things -- hoarding toilet paper is relatively harmless (and every store I've been to in the last two weeks has had TP in stock; the supply chains for that are actually quite robust), but other things scared people might do are not harmless and could impact all of our health.

I also really worry about the follow-on effects of closing schools, closing offices, and people staying home. It's not a huge deal if my office tells me to work from home, it is less convenient but my work can be done from almost anywhere with internet and a phone. Most workers aren't so lucky, though. Closed offices means that all of the contract (hourly) custodial workers are staying home, but unpaid. Same with hourly workers in food service, child care, etc.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:00 AM on March 7 [3 favorites]


I went to my local Costco today and replaced the signs for sold out items like toilet paper and bottled water with signs for magical items like: health potions, dowsing rods, tarot decks, summoning orbs, soul gems, healing crystals, and invisibility amulets.

This bothers me, just like all the deprecating talk about "crazy preppers." I don't need anyone to denigrate my purchasing choices with cutesy signs making fun of decisions I might make to stock up on toilet paper, as if doing so is akin to believing in the healing power of amulets. Yeah, there's some cargo-cult behavior out there, but multiple experts have recommended putting together a basic set of enough supplies to self-quarantine for a few weeks if need be. The article linked in this comment would suggest that we could be at a health-care saturation point in the U.S. in about a month. Anything that lets us stay at home when we need to and limit the speed of spread is probably good, keeping in mind that many, many folks in the U.S. have no safety net and thus almost certainly aren't going to stay home until they must.

I'm a human, and I have a butt. This is some Shania Twain shit right here (except she later said she was joking; y'all aren't joking).
posted by limeonaire at 7:13 AM on March 7 [10 favorites]


Also, anyone dismissively suggesting people don't need extra toilet paper or suggesting they can just use a bidet or cup of water maybe has never experienced the kind of persistent bleeding that many women experience every month. Maybe folks should read The Whelk's excellent link on the gendered aspects of the outbreak.
posted by limeonaire at 7:18 AM on March 7 [9 favorites]


We don’t need people to be panic-buying four months’ worth of supplies. We also don’t need people rolling their eyes at the idea of stocking up on three weeks’ worth of supplies or at conferences being canceled. Early social distancing can have a very beneficial impact on slowing the spread of the virus, which helps blunt the number of elderly and other at-risk people who will need to seek hospital treatment at the same time (which is what would trigger some of the major potential bad effects).

We can sympathize and seek ways to help small businesses and hourly workers who are losing business without acting like it’s foolish to take reasonable measures. Lately I’ve seen way more “how dumb for people to stock up on toilet paper” than I’ve seen people hoarding, but YMMV.
posted by sallybrown at 7:27 AM on March 7 [4 favorites]


The hoarding makes me nervous. I'm worried that I, and others like me who can't afford to hoard and have no place to store hoarded items, won't be able to get the things I need when I need them. The news reports about the hoarding seem to make people want to do it more.
posted by Feminazgul at 9:12 AM on March 7 [11 favorites]


To be optimistic about it, you could view it as—these people buying TP and coffee way in advance are going to take themselves out of the stores for the next month or so. That means there will be supply for you when you go in on your regular trips, and that if those people get sick they’ll be able to take themselves out of your orbit and help you protect yourself.

Of course, that assumes people acting reasonably which is always dicey...
posted by sallybrown at 9:22 AM on March 7 [4 favorites]


The CDC is instructing those of us who are at higher risk to stock up on "several weeks of medications and supplies." So please keep in mind that some of the people hoarding have very good reason to, and a lot of us don't show any obvious signs that we're immunocompromised.
posted by MrVisible at 9:39 AM on March 7 [15 favorites]


Lots of rich detail about life in Wuhan under the quarantine in this London Review of Books article, including this hilarious paragraph claiming quarantined Wuhan kids are coordinating review-bombing of a homework app to get it removed from the app store:

Children were presumably glad to be off school – until, that is, an app called DingTalk was introduced. Students are meant to sign in and join their class for online lessons; teachers use the app to set homework. Somehow the little brats worked out that if enough users gave the app a one-star review it would get booted off the App Store. Tens of thousands of reviews flooded in, and DingTalk’s rating plummeted overnight from 4.9 to 1.4. The app has had to beg for mercy on social media: ‘I’m only five years old myself, please don’t kill me.’
posted by mediareport at 10:49 AM on March 7 [13 favorites]


> The DIY cloth masks seem like a good idea. Any pushback on that?

Yes, but unfortunately I can't find the link. I read that fabric masks can encourage moisture, which encourages growth of bad things.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:54 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


Face Masks: What Doctors Say About Their Role In Containing Coronavirus (NPR, Jan. 29, 2020)
MacIntyre notes that cloth masks — which people wash and reuse — are also common in Asian countries. She says there's no evidence to show they have any benefit, and her research suggests they "may actually be harmful," because infrequent washing and moisture retention can make cloth masks a breeding ground for pathogens.
posted by katra at 12:09 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]


The hoarding makes me nervous. I'm worried that I, and others like me who can't afford to hoard and have no place to store hoarded items, won't be able to get the things I need when I need them. The news reports about the hoarding seem to make people want to do it more.

Back in the day, people would get nervous about whether their bank would be able to give them their money, they'd go withdraw it just to be safe, and then their neighbor would think Hmm, Jones just took all his money out of the bank, what if everyone else does that... and go withdraw their money too, and hey presto, you've just destroyed your local economy because no bank ever has enough cash on hand to cover all deposits. So during the Great Depression (after many, many banks had been destroyed by runs like this), Representative Henry B. Steagall made sure that the Banking Act of 1933 instituted the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and when was the last time your local bank ran out of money because a couple of people got nervous?

Now, I'm not saying we need a FTPIC, or for that matter a National Strategic Toilet Paper Reserve. But I'm not saying we don't, either.
posted by Etrigan at 12:14 PM on March 7 [13 favorites]


Cloth masks: Dangerous to your health? (ScienceDaily, Apr, 22, 2015)
The widespread use of cloth masks by healthcare workers may actually put them at increased risk of respiratory illness and viral infections and their global use should be discouraged, according to a UNSW study.

[...] The penetration of cloth masks by particles was almost 97% compared to medical masks with 44%.
Everything You Need To Know About The Current Coronavirus Outbreak (Forbes, Jan 23, 2020)
The type of mask matters, though. Face masks with respiratory valves are more effective than regular paper surgical masks, and cloth masks may do more harm than good.
posted by katra at 12:25 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


I'm worried that I, and others like me who can't afford to hoard and have no place to store hoarded items, won't be able to get the things I need when I need them.

same, but with people who are disabled and can't physically lug home a ton of supplies, and who are also likely to have financial challenges. and considering this is a country full of people excited to vote away poor/disabled people's healthcare and keep children in cages, i'm not super optimistic about heartwarming stories of people sharing when they see others in need.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:23 PM on March 7 [14 favorites]


I overheard a conversation in a diner the other day in which a right wing Christian was saying both that the virus was created in a lab to make Trump look bad and that it was caused because the Chinese are dirty people. Not sure how his brain could contain such a contradiction. I wanted to butt in and say "if hurricanes are God's punishment for gay marriage, and earthquakes are because of abortion, then obviously this disease if God's referendum on the Trump administration." I wanted to say that, but these self professed followers of the Prince Of Peace are usually packing heat.
posted by ambulocetus at 7:35 PM on March 7 [7 favorites]


Is coronavirus mutating into a more deadly strain? Covid-19 myths busted (Guardian)
The truth about the protective value of face masks and whether it’s easy to catch Covid-19
Claim: ‘It only kills the elderly, so younger people can relax’

Most people who are not elderly and do not have underlying health conditions will not become critically ill from Covid-19. But the illness still has a higher chance of leading to serious respiratory symptoms than seasonal flu and there are other at-risk groups – health workers, for instance, are more vulnerable because they are likely to have higher exposure to the virus. The actions that young, healthy people take, including reporting symptoms and following quarantine instructions, will have an important role in protecting the most vulnerable in society and in shaping the overall trajectory of the outbreak.
posted by katra at 9:48 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]


Shoutout to thank katra for the links about cloth masks, which I was able to use to convince someone on Ravelry to take down their knitting pattern for a DIY mask(!)
posted by bettafish at 1:40 PM on March 8 [7 favorites]




Another good Twitter thread about virus structure, soap, lipids and surfaces, from a professor of supramolecular chemistry. Much will be familiar but it's a nice detailed presentation.

3/25 Disinfectants, or liquids, wipes, gels and creams containing alcohol (and soap) have a similar effects but are not really quite as good as normal soap. Apart from the alcohol and soap, the “antibacterial agents” in these products don't affect the virus structure much at all.
posted by mediareport at 5:19 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


AND, Did Trump fired the U.S. pandemic response team in 2018 to "cut costs"?

Snope investigated, and the answer is "YES"
posted by growabrain at 5:21 AM on March 9 [10 favorites]


I vented on my blog last night.

Your cavalier attitude about Coronavirus is pissing me off.
posted by COD at 5:41 AM on March 9 [3 favorites]


I'm trying to walk a fine line between "it's no big deal" and "it'll be all I Am Legend up in here, time to panic-buy a year's worth of toilet paper".

I've gotten more diligent about hand-washing. I've started a new job this week, and one of the other staffers and I are going to be making hand sanitizer gel and sanitizing spray to distribute to all staff (using rubbing alcohol and aloe vera gel, not Tito's vodka). That job is also only a few blocks from where I live, and I've realized that this removes me from the NYC Subway system - a development for which I am even more grateful than I was originally (before I was just happy that I wasn't going to have to haul my ass onto a subway every day any more). And I have a habit of over-buying groceries because cooking is one of the things I nerd out about; I'm prepared with 2 weeks' worth of groceries already without even trying, and I've been joking to my roommate that a 2 week quarantine might be doing me a favor because I'd be forced to use some of the stuff in the freezer and we'd get some of the damn freezer space back.

But the flip side of that are my parents; my mother's Lyme disease has flared up again, and my father takes an immunosuppressant for his arthritis. And they just made the sad decision that they are going to skip my cousin's wedding in April as a result. It makes total sense for them to do that, but that's still sad for them. They felt guilty, and thought back and forth about it for a few days, but the big thing that tipped it for Mom was that if one of them did come home with it, they'd probably trigger a quarantine on everyone else at the wedding, and Mom said she'd feel even worse if that happened. I still plan on attending, and will bring one of the company sanitizers onto the plane with me.

….Speaking of the new job and the rumor mill - we just had a company-wide email warning us that Amtrak was cancelling its Acela service, and I was on the phone with Acela finding out details because the boss has a trip planned on Wednesday. But while I was on hold there was a second email that got sent out rescinding that; Amtrak was only cancelling CANCELLATION FEES on Acela. The trains themselves should still be running, fortunately. But the original email went out based on a message from a travelers-alert newsletter, which claimed that "the media was reporting" this cancellation.

We live in interesting times.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:38 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


Acela has suspended their NY-DC nonstop service, this is only three trains per day (trains 2401, 2402, 2403). The headlines about this have been misinterpreted by many to mean that all high-speed service has been cancelled, this is not correct. The remainder of limited-stop high-speed Acela service in the DC to Boston corridor and other Amtrak services are currently unaffected.
posted by peeedro at 10:22 AM on March 9


The minimizing messages about COVID-19 originating from the very top are just as, if not more, dangerous than public panic if they lead to scoffers ignoring quarantine orders.
posted by blue suede stockings at 10:24 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Thanks for that, peedro; the conflicting reports have been indeed pretty confusing, and I just sent the boss a cut-to-the-chase clarification.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:34 AM on March 9


FDA, FTC crack down on coronavirus ‘fraudulent prevention and treatment claims’ (WaPo)
Federal officials announced Monday a crackdown against companies selling products claiming to prevent, treat or cure covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission sent warning letters to seven companies accusing them of marketing illegal, unapproved drugs and making deceptive or scientifically unsupported claims. It was the first time the agencies took such action involving products being touted for the coronavirus.

The targeted products include teas, essential oils and colloidal silver. There is no cure or treatment for covid-19, the federal authorities said. Treatments and vaccines are in the early stages of development and haven’t been fully tested for safety and effectiveness. The only treatment available is supportive care — such as providing oxygen for individuals who are having trouble breathing.

[...] By claiming their products treat the quickly spreading virus, the federal officials said, the companies may delay or prevent people from seeking appropriate care. “The FDA considers the sale and promotion of fraudulent covid-19 products to be a threat to the public health,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn. FTC Chairman Joe Simons added, given the high anxiety over the virus, “What we don’t need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims.”

The agencies said they are monitoring social media, online marketplaces and incoming complaints to follow unapproved products.
posted by katra at 11:36 AM on March 9 [3 favorites]


The coronavirus outbreak is making expertise great again (Ishaan Tharoor, WaPo)
One of the leitmotifs of right-wing nationalism in the West is a profound rage against expertise. President Trump’s campaign four years ago latched on to populist resentments toward the cadre of nominally liberal, technocratic elites predominant in government and other institutions of power and privilege. Former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon spoke grandiosely of “the destruction of the administrative state” and the supposed anti-national menace that lurked within it. Trump, who once proclaimed his “love” for “the poorly educated,” has demonstrated repeatedly over three years of hiring and firing top officials that he values personal loyalty and sycophancy over subject-matter competence.

[...] But the global spread of the novel coronavirus poses a unique reality check. A flurry of recent reporting plots how the Trump administration bungled the early weeks of the outbreak, squandering valuable time to manage and prepare for the arrival of a global epidemic that has now reached around 100 countries and infected more than 100,000 people, including more than 500 confirmed cases in the United States.

[...] “The repeated false claims by the president that the virus was being contained exacerbated the problem,” my colleagues reported, in a piece that surveyed numerous current or former public health officials. “They made it difficult for public health officials to lay out the need to prepare for what happens next, even after most experts had begun to fear the virus was already here and spreading. There was also a ripple effect, with health officials and others not taking the threat as seriously as they should have because Trump kept on making faulty assurances, such as his claim at a Feb. 26 news conference that within the United States, the number of cases was ‘going to be down to close to zero.’”

[...] It doesn’t have to be like this. An editorial this weekend in the Ottawa Citizen praised the Canadian government’s handling of the crisis so far on two significant counts: First, that public health agencies have provided “frequent, factual updates” on the spread of the virus; second, that their “tone has been non-political” throughout.
posted by katra at 12:48 PM on March 9 [6 favorites]


Mistrust, Rumor and Conspiracy Theories Hinder U.S. Virus Fight (Bloomberg / MSN)
The disconnect starts at the top, with President Donald Trump’s repeated undermining of health officials’ assessment of coronavirus risks. With no evidence, Trump last week disputed the death rate from the WHO and downplayed the virus’ dangers on national television. [...] Public fear is increasing and people “desperately want and need accurate, concise, reliable information,” Lisa Lockerd Maragakis, senior director of infection prevention at the Johns Hopkins Health System in Baltimore, said Saturday. There are serious discrepancies between the statements of scientists “and some of the political leaders,” she said. “I’m trying to be careful in how I say that.”

[...] The internet is awash with oddball cures, false infection reports and conspiracy theories about the motives of health experts and the federal government. That has real consequences, because cynicism degrades “the chief tool of public health, which is trust,” said Jim Thomas, a pandemic expert and epidemiology professor at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. “Without that trust, it can do nothing.”

[...] Vincent Covello, a doctor who directs the Center for Risk Communication in New York, said panic and rumors increase exponentially when the public gets conflicting information. He wouldn’t comment on Trump’s dispute with the WHO, but said dissonant assertions of fact erode trust in all sources of information. [...] For state and local health officials, such reflexive distrust makes things harder. Scott Packer, who handles communications for Houston’s health department, has gone so far as to dispute false information on individual Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. He also works with local news outlets to correct the record.

He said some of the misinformation comes from people who genuinely think they’re helping. [...] Maragakis, the John Hopkins official, said public officials must get people’s attention “in a way that activates them to take the appropriate steps to protect themselves, but it’s not so overwhelming that it engenders panic and inaction.” Disinformation, Maragakis said, “is a phenomenon that seems to correlate with the degree of fear.”
posted by katra at 10:33 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]




Is it just me or is there a trend of autocrats (Trump, Salvini, Johnson) markedly refusing to submit to testing, like some sort of reverse-version of putinesque bare-chested-horsebackness? (So far Bolsonaro is just minimizing, Orban has updated his scaremongering, and Duterte is... being his usual self?)
posted by progosk at 5:01 AM on March 11 [3 favorites]


I remain unconvinced that austerity ever makes sense as policy.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:59 AM on March 11 [6 favorites]






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