QUINCY — There is almost an infodemic of misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic on social media and circulating in public, local physicians and public health experts say.
The myths cause health officials to worry that as Illinois reopens, the public will disregard the experts' advice and instead believe what they read on social media sites, including information that is not vetted by medical professionals or reported from credible sources.
"I think it is very hard for lay people to know what to believe, especially since there is still a lot we don't know about the virus, so when they see someone speaking with some degree of confidence they want to believe that person," said Dr. Mary Frances Barthel, Blessing Health System's chief quality and safety officer, who also is one of the health care system's COVID-19 response team members.
"Everyone needs to know that most of what is out there can always be clarified and explained with science."
Myths being perpetuated on social media are now discussed in doctors' offices, say Barthel and Blessing's Chief of Medicine Dr. Christopher R. Solaro.
Already battling a virus, which has sickened more than 98 people in Adams County, Barthel, Solaro and Jerrod Welch, administrator for the Adams County Health Department, seek to debunk the myths.
All three medical experts agree that the prolonged wearing of a mask does not decrease the body's oxygen levels or lead to carbon dioxide intoxication. They deem claims to the contrary to be "blatantly false."
"The cloth masks that many people are wearing out in the community leak in enough air that you are essentially breathing in room air," Barthel said.?"You are still able to breathe in the same amount of air while exhaling the same amount of air."
She pointed to the safe use of masks by doctors, nurses and other medical professionals in operating rooms.
Welch said wearing a mask should not be a controversial decision.
"The whole use of a mask is to contain your own germs," Welch said. "Your mask is protecting everybody else, while their mask is protecting you. It is really that simple, and that is why it would be a much more ideal situation if we saw more people taking that minor inconvenience to protect one another."
The three also say statements that COVID-19 is not a serious threat to public health due to most people recovering from the virus are "patently false."
Welch said, "It is certainly our hope that most people will recover from the coronavirus. In our local data, most of the illnesses are in the younger populations that have better immune systems, which means that their bodies have a better chance of responding positively.
"Young people do get sick from COVID-19. Some will get mild symptoms. Some will get moderate symptoms, and some will get extremely sick."
The Adams County Health Department reported on Thursday there were 98 positive cases of COVID-19 in the county, and that 43 people have recovered. Each of the county's positive cases represents a unique individual, who had an active COVID-19 infection.
Of those testing positive for the virus, 53 are female, and 45 are male. Most of the people testing positive are between 20 and 39 years old, which accounts for nearly 40% of the county's positive cases.
The health department also said Thursday that several positive cases have been traced to the Cathedral of Worship in Quincy, which has notified its congregation that all worship services will be suspended until Wednesday, July 8.
Barthel said, "It is true that most people will recover, just like most people who get pneumonia or influenza will recover, but that doesn't mean it is not serious."
She explained that the long-term health implications of contracting COVID-19 are unknown.
Experts also are pushing back on the claim that the COVID-19 virus is comparable to influenza, which Welch described as comparing apples to oranges.
"Right now, there is one huge difference. There is a vaccine out there that helps us prevent people from dying from influenza. We don't have a vaccine or really any medication at our disposal to keep otherwise healthy people from getting sick," Welch said.
While the preferred method of testing for COVID-19 remains a nasal swab, which has been described as uncomfortable and slightly painful, public health officials say they are worried about a home test that's winning attention.
The test is that if someone can hold their breath for 10 seconds or longer without coughing or feeling discomfort, they do not have the virus.
Welch, Barthel and Solaro described the theory as "laughable."
"To be absolutely clear, holding your breath for 10 seconds and not coughing is not an indicator that you have the virus or that you don't," Welch said. "It would be nice if we could get a home testing kit that was FDA approved, accurate, but at this point in time, the swab administered by someone who has been trained to do it and to have that swab tested in a laboratory is the definitive way of determining if you have a COVID-19 infection."
Public health experts also said claims of rinsing your nose with a saline solution prevents the virus are false.
"That is definitely a myth," Welch said. "The virus can enter through any of your mucous membranes. You can rub it in to your eyes, or you can inhale it into your nose or mouth. So a nose rinse is not an effective way to lower your chances of getting COVID-19."
Other myths debunked include that staying indoors in isolation lowers your immune system and that wearing a mask lowers your immune system.
Ahead of the Fourth of July holiday, both Solaro and Barthel offered warnings to the public, including the possibility of attending large gatherings to watch fireworks.
Solaro said, "The community is starting to let its guard down, which is a dangerous thing. COVID-19 is still here in our community. We used to think that heat would kill the virus, but heat doesn't matter. Obviously, we are in July, and we have had some of the hottest days of the year, and the virus is still here. We need to maintain social distancing and wearing masks to keep it from spreading."
Barthel said, "Being outside helps you social distance if you choose to, but if you are in outdoors, standing along the riverfront, shoulder to shoulder with masses of other people, then you are going to be exposed. You are still going to have droplets land on you.
"This weekend, if anybody would decide to go and watch fireworks, I would be very, very careful about being in crowds of people. You are just as likely to contract the virus watching fireworks along the river than you are in a bar or restaurant."