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Coronavirus facts vs. falsehoods

Now that the new strain of coronavirus has reached the U.S. and begun claiming victims, it’s time for a reminder about where to get information about protecting yourself — and where not to. Social media would be a not.

You may have seen a viral (sorry) post going around Facebook claiming to be from a medical professional advising that drinking water frequently will protect you from the coronavirus. That’s false. It’s always a good idea to stay hydrated, but it won’t magically remove the virus from your body or prevent it from invading.

Other bogus claims making the rounds:

  • The CDC has not recommended that men shave their beards. The infographic now circulating was produced to warn that facial hair interferes with the seal on facial respirator masks.
  • Surgical masks will not protect against the virus; only respirator masks, which health officials say are not necessary unless you are exhibiting symptoms or have been diagnosed with coronavirus.
  • Ingesting bleach or bleaching agents is dangerous and won’t work. Don’t do it.
  • Likewise, colloidal silver, widely touted as a miracle cure for all sorts of ills, has no known medical benefits and can cause serious side effects when taken internally. Don’t ingest it for any reason.

There are more claims, even more dubious than these. If you see questionable information online, ignore it and please, don’t share it.

Here’s a quick list of facts, gleaned from reliable sources such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control:

What is a coronavirus?

The name comes from the physical structure of the virus, and is a generic term for a large number of viruses. The common cold is a coronavirus. So are Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The term initially used for the latest variety was “novel (meaning new) coronavirus.” The disease the new virus causes has been named COVID-19, short for Corona Virus Disease, and 19 for the year it first appeared (in December).

How dangerous is it?

You may have seen reports that the death rate from COVID-19 is about 2% to 3%. That may not sound like much, but it’s high. By comparison, the mortality rate of the influenza virus is 0.1%. The 2% figure may be artificially inflated, because it comes out of China, where the disease was first detected and most of the cases have occurred, and Chinese authorities are counting only laboratory-confirmed cases. The actual number of cases is probably higher, because many people may exhibit no symptoms or very mild ones. As of Monday, 90,000 cases had been reported worldwide, and 3,000 deaths. That’s a mortality rate of 3.3%. But if the true number of cases is actually much higher, which seems likely, the death rate could be considerably lower. Health authorities just don’t know yet.

Still, it’s worth remembering that the flu kills 12,000 to 61,000 Americans every year. And people have built-in resistance to the flu by being exposed to it or getting the vaccine. That’s not the case with the coronavirus. Even if the mortality rate of coronavirus is 1%, and 5% of Americans contract it, that’s more than 100,000 deaths.

What should you do?

Here’s an important note from Oregon Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle: If you’re sick, stay home from work.

She reminds all Oregonians that state law protects their right to take sick leave. Businesses with more than 10 employees (six or more in Portland) must provide paid sick leave.

Employers with fewer workers are not required to provide paid sick time, but workers are still entitled to take it.

So, stay home if you’re sick (your co-workers will thank you even if you don’t have coronavirus), keep calm, cover coughs and sneezes, and wash your hands.