Coronavirus fact check: What to know as misinformation spreads

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EAST FLATBUSH, Brooklyn — On various social media, misinformation about the novel coronavirus appears to be spreading faster than the virus itself.

One myth that’s being shared online is that people of African descent are genetically resistant to the illness. That rumor couldn’t be farther from the truth, according to experts.

“It is not one particular group of people or one particular country that is less susceptible or more susceptible to this,” Dr. Tamara Moise told PIX11 News.

Moise serves a wide-ranging group of patients, but her practice, Big Apple Urgent Care, is in East Flatbush, a community that is predominantly of color.

“We all need to be mentally prepared, but not panic,” she said.

Instead, people should take appropriate precautions against flu-like symptoms, including washing hands often, covering sneezes and coughs with an inner elbow, and staying home if feeling sick.

With no coronavirus cases confirmed in the tri-state area, any of those symptoms are most likely the flu, which can be fatal.

The myth-busting website Snopes.com devoted a long web entry to the issue of misinformation on who can contract the illness because false rumors have so widely circulated.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anyone who comes into close contact with someone infected with the coronavirus is at risk for contracting it,” Snopes points out.

Even though the CDC is the headquarters at which the coronavirus fight is centered, neighborhood medical centers like Moise’s clinic are the front line of handling the potential crisis. The chief medical officer of a neighborhood branch of a major hospital agreed.

“Here in a community hospital setting, we’re closer to John F. Kennedy [Airport], so it’s very possible that we could get patients,” said Dr. Peter Shearer.

Shearer, who oversees medical operations at Mt. Sinai Brooklyn, said the hospital staff has undergone extensive training in the last two weeks, including actors who came in and portrayed patients with coronavirus symptoms.

Doctors, nurses, and other staff responded well to the scenario, he said. They plan to practice repeatedly for “what’s coming in the next four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks,” or whenever the coronavirus crisis reaches New York, he said.

One of their greatest challenges, Shearer added, is not strictly medical.

“There’s the infection and there’s the community fear, and people’s anxieties are going to rise much faster than any case load,” he said.

Now that there’s an official report of a case of an American who contracted the virus but who did not travel to any of the more than 30 countries where the virus has been documented, and had not had contact with anyone from who’s recently visited those countries, there’s an even greater need to prevent panic, Shearer said.

“We have to make sure that people maintain their anxieties at a normal level,” he said. “That helps keep them aware and prepared, but not exaggerate the situation that’s going on.”

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