FARGO — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has said the only thing that seems to spread faster than coronavirus is fake news, rumors and myths about the illness.
So we reached out to the North Dakota Joint Information Center, which shares information about the disease, to find out which ones they hear the most often. We also asked health experts, state officials and grocery executives to tell us how these rumors started, why they are false and provide information to set the record straight.
North Dakota has a long list of questions and answers regarding coronavirus for a variety of topics, which can be found at ndresponse.gov/covid-19-resources/covid-19-faqs.
From drinking alcohol as a cure to believing young people are immune, here are the top 10 rumors North Dakota officials hear about COVID-19, in no particular order.
1. It's a "made-up disease.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes coronavirus as a real disease, as do major health organizations and governments across the world.
Comments that it was a “made-up disease,” that the flu killed more people or the U.S. was overreacting to the situation were common in the early days of it spreading across the country, the Joint Information Center said. But that seems to have died down as people realize this is not an ordinary virus, the center said.
2. Williams County is being under-reported to avoid scaring oil companies.
It’s unclear how this rumor started, but it’s possible there was confusion about who was being tested and for which state the positive tests would count, the Joint Information Center said.
“Sometimes, unfortunately, if people do not know the reasons for an action, they may make one up that makes sense to them,” a center spokesperson said. “In this case, the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to coincide with the plunge in oil prices. So maybe people thought, ‘Why would North Dakota filter out cases in the Oil Patch? … Maybe it is so the oil companies don’t flee North Dakota.' ”
In North Dakota, the county of address is used to identify where positive tests are confirmed. For example, if a person tested positive in Fargo but his or her home address was Dickinson, the case would count toward Stark County’s total.
The state isn’t skewing numbers in the Oil Patch, the center said. As of Thursday, April 9, there were six confirmed cases of coronavirus in Williams County out of 269 in North Dakota. Mountrail County, which borders Williams to the east and is an oil-producing county, had 20.
3. Grocery stores are being shut down.
There is no law or executive order in North Dakota that requires grocery stores to close during the coronavirus crisis.
Grocers are still open in North Dakota, though most, if not all, have adjusted hours to allow employees to clean the stores thoroughly. Many grocers offer online shopping, delivery or pick-up services so residents don’t have to shop around the stores.
The stores also announced they would reserve certain shopping times for those who are more susceptible to contracting the virus, including the elderly and pregnant women.
4. Masks make it worse or will save you.
Medical experts have said in the past wearing a mask should be saved for health professionals and those who are sick to prevent the spread of illness. Just because a person wears a mask doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to not get the coronavirus.
But national leaders believe it can help prevent the spread of the virus. The CDC recently recommended residents wear masks or cloth coverings, noting asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people can spread coronavirus through close interactions.
“COVID-19 is a virus that can be transmitted through droplets, and wearing a mask, in theory, reduces this risk,” said Dr. Josh Deere, primary care medical director at the Grand Forks-based Altru Health System.
5. Young people don’t get seriously ill or die from COVID-19.
Older people are more at risk to contract the illness with strong symptoms, and they die at higher numbers than younger people. But that doesn’t mean the younger population is immune, Essentia Health officials said.
Young people have become seriously ill and have died from coronavirus in the U.S. and around the world. At least five people ages 24 and younger died due to complications from the illness, and 381 people who died were under the age of 54, according to the CDC. Those numbers are incomplete due to delays in reporting, meaning it could be higher.
In North Dakota, 40% of the 269 cases were found in adults ages 50 and up as of Thursday, and the five people who have died were over the age of 60, according to the state Health Department. Five children under the age of 10 tested positive for the virus, 14 were between 10-19, and 43 were in their 20s.
6. If you're sick and have symptoms, your doctor will always test you.
Residents are not guaranteed a test if they have symptoms, the state said. Hospitals can decide when to test patients, and the CDC has listed guidelines for prioritizing who should be tested since there are a limited number of kits.
“Not everyone needs to be tested for COVID-19,” an Essentia Health infection prevention staff member in Fargo wrote in an email.
7. Tylenol is the cure and/or Tylenol makes it worse.
Tylenol has been used to treat fevers for COVID-19, but it isn’t a cure or preventable medicine, Deere said.
There is no known cure, vaccine or treatment for coronavirus, the World Health Organization said. However, treatments and vaccines are being researched and even tested.
8. Hot or cold weather prevents or kills the virus.
It doesn’t matter how hot or sunny a climate is, WHO said. People in countries with hot weather have reported cases of COVID-19.
9. UV rays kill COVID.
WHO does not recommend using UV lamps to sterilize hands or body parts, especially since radiation can cause skin irritation and potentially skin cancer.
10. Vodka will prevent/cure it.
There is no evidence that drinking vodka can cure or prevent coronavirus, Deere said. In fact, frequent or excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of health problems, WHO said.
“Some may extrapolate the fact that (because) COVID is easily killed by alcohol with hand-washing solutions, it is also true for consumption orally,” Deere said. “This would be false."
In any event, hand sanitizer must contain at least 60% alcohol to be effective, the CDC said. Most vodkas only have 40% alcohol, meaning the liquor is not strong enough to kill the virus.