With so much information about COVID-19 at our fingertips, it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s reliable. We checked with two experts, Washington University infectious disease doctors who are helping lead BJC’s response to the pandemic. Clay Dunagan, MD, and Hilary Babcock, MD, MPH, helped us sort fact from fiction about COVID-19.
Testing creates more cases.
Doing more testing doesn't create more cases. It identifies more people who are infected with COVID-19. This means we can trace their contacts and tell them to take precautions so they don’t pass it on to other people if they get sick. We also use case numbers to track whether the number of positive cases is increasing or decreasing and how fast.
It is OK to be unmasked outdoors when socially distanced.
As long as you maintain social distancing and are only with a small number of unmasked individuals, you are not increasing your risk. If you can sit outdoors and be 6 to 8 feet away from someone, you could take your mask off. There’s nothing really magical about 6 feet, so even farther is better. Avoid being around large groups of people standing around unmasked and yelling or singing, which propels particles farther through the air.
Always be aware of your surroundings. If you don't have a mask on because no one's around, be mindful that if someone walks up to you, you're now at risk and it’s time for the mask to go back on.
Cooler weather will reduce the spread of COVID-19.
We don’t really know yet. There is not enough data to determine what will happen with cooler weather. We don’t know whether COVID is more or less likely to spread in cooler temperatures.
Asymptomatic people cannot transmit COVID-19.
People who are not experiencing symptoms can still transmit the disease. In fact, some data shows the first day or two prior to developing symptoms is the most infectious period. Some people may never have symptoms and they can still pass the virus to other people. This is one of the reasons we recommend distancing and masking for everyone, all the time.
Someone with pre-existing health conditions is at higher risk for getting sick with COVID-19.
Having pre-existing health conditions does not necessarily make it more likely that you will catch COVID-19, but it does increase the risk that you will get sicker and have more complications.
Senior citizens are at increased risk of dying after being infected.
Older people are at increased risk of serious complications, including death, if they get COVID-19, and the risk rises with increasing age. But people with underlying health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease — even if they are younger — also are at an increased risk of complications and of dying from the infection.
Masks don’t make a difference with spread of COVID-19.
Masks make a huge difference and protect us all. Masks work in two different ways. If someone has the virus, a mask can contain the virus and keep it from spreading to others. A mask also protects the uninfected, or healthy, person who is wearing it. Those big respiratory droplets that can carry virus are blocked easily and even many of the smaller droplets can also be blocked by masks.
COVID-19 can cause long-term damage to the body.
When we examine people who've died, there is extensive damage to many organs, particularly the lungs and heart. Many people who have recovered from COVID still have symptoms weeks to months later. What we don't know is whether those changes will reverse over time. There is increased data about people having long-term health problems after a COVID infection, but this virus has only been around for seven to nine months so we are still learning what the long-term impact may be.
I was exposed to someone with COVID-19 and tested negative, so I’m not infected.
If you have a negative test three to seven days after exposure, you could still get sick later. It can take up to 14 days to develop COVID-19 after an exposure. If you've been exposed to someone with COVID-19, you need to stay home for a full 14 days regardless of whether you got a test earlier.
94% of those who died with COVID-19 really died of something else.
That number came from a mistake in the way data from the CDC was reported in the press. The CDC reported data from death certificates. Death certificates always list both the cause of death and any contributing factors and underlying conditions. Underlying or pre-existing conditions are diseases or conditions the patient already had that may have made it harder for them to recover from COVID-19. Contributing factors include any medical complication caused by the virus. For example, a patient with COVID-19 may develop respiratory failure which would then be listed as a contributing factor on the death certificate. Only 6% of people who died of COVID-19, according to this report, had no contributing factors or underlying conditions, but all the people who had COVID-19 listed on their death certificate died because they had COVID-19.
We should wait for the second or third round of a vaccine, as the first round of vaccines never works.
Vaccines do not get approved until scientists and regulators are confident they are safe and effective. When a vaccine is approved, the data showing how well it works and how safe it is will be available for review.
The flu and COVID-19 are similar.
The flu and COVID-19 have overlapping symptoms and they both can cause serious illness and death. However, COVID-19 has a much higher mortality rate and it will be many months before a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available. For younger patients, particularly young children, we see more flu deaths each year than we're seeing with COVID-19.