Pandemic Stories in the News: Something to Laugh About

Steven Novella said it best: “Pandemics breed more than a contagious disease. They spread fear, misinformation, pseudoscience, and exploitation.” I would add, “and humor.”

I have written about Covid-19 before, first on the 4th of February in an article on Science-Based Medicine about how alternative medicine had jumped on the bandwagon, then again in my March 23rd SkepDoc’s Corner column. Another month has passed, and the situation has only gotten worse. False claims continue to proliferate, ranging from the absurd to the bizarre, from the clueless to the dastardly, from the eccentric to the exploitative. I can’t decide whether I should laugh or cry. Here are just some of the items that have caught my attention recently. Most of these made me angry, but first they made me laugh. You may want to laugh, cry, scream, curse, spit, stamp your feet, throw a tantrum, or write your congressman; but it won’t do a bit of good. 

Chiropractors have been designated “essential” and are allowed to keep their businesses open.  Nevertheless, they are concerned that patients may skip chiropractic appointments to limit their contact with others, so some chiropractors are offering outdoor treatments. A patient is quoted as saying, “I missed my last appointment and I could really tell I was in desperate need of one.” (Yes, she desperately needed her placebo fix!) Outdoor chiropractors claim to be screening for possible signs of infection and disinfecting the outdoor treatment center between patients but are they and the patients wearing masks? And what if the weather doesn’t cooperate?

One woman who went to a gathering without a mask explained that she had observed that President Trump wasn’t wearing one, so she figured she didn’t need one either. 

Vice President Pence visited the Mayo Clinic without a mask. The Mayo Clinic tweeted that they had told him before his visit that masks were required for everyone who entered the building, but then they deleted the tweet. His wife claims he didn’t know. If he didn’t, the fact that he was the only one in the building not wearing a mask might have given him a clue. After all, he is heading the coronavirus task force that is advising everyone to wear masks! After criticism erupted, he later wore a mask when touring a GM plant. 

There have been numerous reports of religious leaders dying of Covid-19 after they defied the social distancing rules and held religious services. The Washington Post reported that up to 30 of them were pastors and bishops within the largest black Pentecostal denomination

Many people who attended religious services were subsequently diagnosed with coronavirus. In one Illinois Life Church, 80 people attended a service with a guest speaker, and more than half of them became ill. 43 people were sick and most of those tested were positive for the coronavirus. “The church is relying on scripture for strength to pull through, and are asking for prayers.” 

People who marched in public protests against the lockdown and people who defied the social distancing restrictions at weddings and other gatherings have since tested positive for Covid-19.

In a video, a woman said that only immigrants can get sick, because they drink Corona beer out of glass bottles rather than light beer out of cans. I hope that was a spoof.

Trump recommended immediate use of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, based on his gut feelings about anecdotal reports and one flawed study. As a result, there is a shortage of hydroxychloroquine for patients who really need it for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Numerous studies are underway to evaluate these drugs for Covid-19, but they are already being widely prescribed for prevention and treatment by doctors who don’t want to wait for scientific evidence. The results of trials so far are not promising. For instance, a study of 368 veterans in VA hospitals found that those who got hydroxychloroquine (either alone or with azithromycin) were more likely to die.  And we know the drug is far from harmless. Among other side effects, it can damage the retina, causing permanent loss of vision.

Now Trump is suggesting we should inject or ingest cleaning products! He tried to disavow his suggestion as sarcasm; but that would be even worse! Sarcasm would be inappropriate and dangerous coming from a President in a pandemic briefing. Plenty of people believed he was serious, as demonstrated by inquiries to medical authorities, responses by manufacturers, and an increase in reports to poison centers of cleaning product ingestions.

A televangelist summoned the “wind of God” to destroy the virus. He also told viewers they could be cured by touching their TV sets as he prayed.

An Ohio woman who defied stay-at-home orders was interviewed on CNN; she claimed she wasn’t worried because she was covered in Jesus’ blood

An MD was charged with fraud for selling coronavirus treatments online in the form of a “concierge medicine experience” (at a cost of $3995 for a family of four) and claiming hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin were 100% effective at preventing and curing the coronavirus. His defense? He thinks it’s unfair for the government to persecute him, since he was only providing the cure that the executive branch itself had been touting.

The Indian government’s Ministry of AYUSH is recommending a homeopathic preparation called Arsenicum album 30C and two drops of sesame oil in each nostril each morning for prevention. There’s no evidence to support that, although there is some evidence that another ancient Indian remedy, the neti pot, may reduce cold symptoms.

David Gorski has written about an “unholy alliance” between Covid-19 deniers and anti-vaccination activists. Both are demanding the freedom to do whatever they want. They are using the same playbook, spreading misinformation, and spouting conspiracy theories. The most ridiculous theory is that Bill Gates caused the pandemic because he thinks it will give him the means to implant microchips and control the world’s population.

The state of Missouri has sued China. I bet China is really scared! Can a state sue a foreign country? Would that be considered a violation of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act

Trump tried to throw the blame on the World Health Organization (WHO), saying it had done everything wrong.  Although US intelligence sources had warned about the outbreak in China as early as November 2019, Trump has insisted that “Nobody knew” what was coming. Who knew? Well, the WHO knew. The WHO designated Covid-19 a global health emergency on January 30. That was nearly a month before Trump tweeted that “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA” and six weeks before he declared a national emergency on March 13. Now he wants to punish the WHO by withholding their funding.

The Genesis II Church of Health and Healing said Miracle Mineral Solution was a sacrament that could cure Covid-19. When a federal judge issued an injunction against them, requiring them to stop distributing MMS, the church responded that it intended to ignore the restraining order and would continue to sell MMS. Can you sell a sacrament? WWJD?

As I mentioned before, the FDA issued warnings to seven companies for selling fraudulent COVID-19 products. Seven is barely a drop in the bucket.

The president has threatened to withhold coronavirus aid from states with sanctuary-city policies. Couldn’t that be considered a bribe or a quid pro quo?

A chiropractor made a video full of misinformation and false claims. He said that drinking hot water will kill the virus, that just being in the sun can kill it, that it can only live on your skin for 5-10 minutes, that there is a US patent on the virus (not realizing that the patent was for an entirely different coronavirus). Chiropractic organizations are telling their members to stop advertising that they can treat Covid-19.  There’s no evidence that spinal adjustments can boost immunity. Several chiropractors are offering treatment with IV infusions of vitamin C.

Pastor Jim Bakker was sued for claiming colloidal silver was effective against the virus. It not only won’t work, but it may permanently discolor your skin, a condition called argyria. One man who used it for dermatitis turned so spectacularly blue that he earned the nickname Papa Smurf. Click on the link to see his picture.

The Times of Israel reported that fully half of the coronavirus patients in Israel’s hospitals were ultra-Orthodox. The response of ultra-Orthodox rabbis was to threaten “drastic steps” if the government did not lift the restrictions. One religious leader decreed that “canceling Torah study is more dangerous than the coronavirus.” He looked pretty foolish after a film clip showed that he didn’t understand what the coronavirus was and his grandson had to explain it to him.

A YouTube video said that inhaling hot air from a hair dryer can help cure coronavirus. Ridiculous, and potentially dangerous advice; but the video got nearly half a million views.

A hoax falsely claimed that smoke from Chinese crematoriums could be seen from space. (Images probably predated the pandemic and showed emissions from coal plants.)

Police warned against opening your door to strangers, since criminals have been pretending to test for the virus as a ploy to get in and rob.

The water in the canals of Venice is clearer now, and there are reported sightings of dolphins and swans. Snopes says this is not a new phenomenon and can’t be attributed to Covid-19 decreasing human activity.

Some people are claiming the virus escaped from a lab in China; a Chinese state TV anchor claimed it escaped from the US.  Scientists who have examined the genome are convinced it escaped from wild animals. Whatever the source, it definitely escaped. 

No, Covid-19 was not caused by 5G. “But 5G was first tested in Wuhan; that can’t be a coincidence.” Yes, it can.

A screenshot showed a lion in a street and claimed that Russia had released 500 lions to keep people indoors. An obvious hoax; but if it were true, Russians would be feasting on lion meat. Gun ownership for hunting is legal there.

The Dutch Air Force had to deny a rumor that they were planning to disinfect the entire country with helicopters.

Fake Covid-19 home test kits are being marketed; the FDA has not approved any such kits.

Alex Jones was warned against making false claims that his toothpaste and other products are effective against coronavirus.

A sign seen at a protest said, “Your health is not more important than my liberties.” (Confirmed by Snopes.)

Some states are suffering, but when they asked for federal aid, Mitch McConnell said the federal government would not help them and instead, they should go bankrupt.

A fake, doctored report of a positive Covid-19 test has been circulating with Joe Biden’s name on it. 

Getting a flu shot makes you more susceptible to the coronavirus? Not only false, but dangerous.

Christina Cuomo added Clorox to her bathwater “to neutralize heavy metals because they slow-up the electromagnetic frequency of our cells, which is our energy field, and we need a good flow of energy.” She also takes “oxygenated herbs” and “medicinal florals (xanthium and magnolia)” to strengthen her immune system, along with several other drugs and vitamins. She got a doctor to make a house call in a hazmat suit to administer a vitamin-packed IV drip with folic acid, zinc, and caffeine, to combat a sinus infection.” She claims that “Clorox is sodium chloride—which is technically salt.” When criticized, she just doubled down.

“This is Covid-19, so that must mean there were 18 earlier coronaviruses”. No there weren’t: the 19 only means it arose in 2019. 

Prisoners are being released to protect them from other prisoners who have Covid-19.  Maybe not such a good idea?

Licorice is being touted as destroying coronavirus. It doesn’t.

Triaging just got easier. The government has changed the rules so that doctors don’t have to treat LGBTQ patients for Covid-19 or for anything else if they have religious objections.

Two doctors in California are claiming that social isolation will damage your immune system.

This one was my favorite, but it turned out to be a photoshopped hoax. A protester held a sign saying Barack has 6 letters, Hussein 7, Obama 5, “Covid=19. Open your eyes.” Yes, open your eyes and do the math again: 6+7+5= 18, not 19! Sheesh!

Stories like these abound, and there are new ones every day. You’ve probably heard some that are even funnier.  I can’t decide which are funnier, the hoaxes or the real ones. 

You can laugh at the claims, but don’t laugh at the people who believe them. Pity their ignorance and have compassion for them. Laughing is not effective against coronavirus; but if you can laugh at these stories, it might provide a ray of sunshine to brighten your day in these dark times. 

This article was originally published as a SkepDoc’s Corner column on the  CSI website.

Dr. Hall is a contributing editor to both Skeptic magazine and the Skeptical Inquirer. She is a weekly contributor to the Science-Based Medicine Blog and is one of its editors. She has also contributed to Quackwatch and to a number of other respected journals and publications. She is the author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon and co-author of the textbook, Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.

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