weather icon Clear

Science smashes coronavirus conspiracy theories

Baseball legend Yogi Berra famously quipped about a 1973 pennant race, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Berra’s oft-repeated observation couldn’t be more apt for the current public health crisis, as governors (Republican as well as Democrat) lead efforts to contain the nationwide devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Berra’s Mets did eventually come back to win the division title that year. The U.S., and the world, must take decisive, even unpopular steps, to ensure that the coronavirus doesn’t also make a huge comeback.

What might bring about that deadly — and economically debilitating — coronavirus comeback? One way is the spread of misinformed conspiracy theories that encourage undermining critical public health interventions. Public health experts, some conspiracists suggest, are propagating a huge “scam” and “hoax” on the American people. Even if they concede that the coronavirus pandemic is real (an idea still challenging for many conspiracists), they nevertheless argue that the recommendations of public health professionals are merely political weapons to sway the November presidential election.

These ideas are nonsense and dangerous — and scientists and medical professionals can tell us why.

Epidemiologists (medical scientists who study disease patterns) and infectious disease researchers on both sides of the political aisle have warned that the novel coronavirus is unusual — and especially dangerous — in at least two respects: the virus’s ability to be passed from an infected person who is not experiencing symptoms to others; and the average number of people a sick person infects with the virus., in other words, how easily the virus spreads from person to person. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that the virus that causes COVID-19 is among the most contagious airborne viral pathogens ever investigated.

Why do these extreme traits of the coronavirus — as compared to other illnesses like the seasonal flu — underscore the need for admittedly extreme efforts to control the pandemic?

First, the fact that infected people who otherwise feel healthy can pass the virus to others thwarts typically effective means to identify and isolate those people who are contagious and spreading the disease.

Second, the contagiousness of the virus means explosive growth in the number of people who are infected each and every day if strict public health measures are not followed. Such exponential growth is staggering, and was evidenced by the daily doubling (or more) of the hospitalizations and deaths from the disease in places like Rome and New York City in March.

Without the shutdowns, social distancing protocols and quarantining efforts pleaded for by U.S. health experts, those doubling numbers would have continued unabated, and would have overwhelmed our medical professionals and hospitals. (Remember, such exponential growth means going from 800 to 102,400 cases per day in just one week.)

Thankfully, by listening to our health experts, the U.S. was able to “flatten the curve” of new cases (slowing the rate of transmission) in the short term. Yes, flattening the curve may extend its duration. However, as demonstrated by the variation in fatality rates according to geographic location and corresponding burdens on local medical resources, it is currently the best way to reduce fatalities, even if the ultimate number of infected is the same. It is only by continuing to listen to scientists and public health professionals — as many state governors are doing — and taking a slow, measured approach to the reopening of our society and economy that we can dampen this disaster and save lives in the months ahead.

What other evidence do we have of the absurdity of the conspiracies about our public health experts’ advice? Look no further than the similar measures being adopted by governments all over the world, including Denmark, Germany, Italy, India, Singapore and in scores of other countries around the globe.

Are these public health measures — some far more restrictive than those in the U.S. — also “scams” aimed at damaging the future political fortunes of their country’s leaders or political parties? Of course not.

And look at those, like the U.K., which started off with a laissez-faire approach, only to change course after seeing the true costs of their bravado. Thankfully, they too have listened to a consensus of world health experts and are working to minimize the damage of this global pandemic, informed by science and with an understanding that the coronavirus has no political ideology or affiliation.

Dr. Daniel C. Benyshek is a professor of medical anthropology and chair of the anthropology department at UNLV. He is also an adjunct professor, UNLV Medical School, and a proud Boulder City resident.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Appointment raises questions

Last week, City Council members terminated the employment contracts for City Manager Al Noyola and City Attorney Steve Morris.

Mail-in ballots problematic

If you don’t believe mail-in ballots are a problem, think again. My wife and I became permanent Boulder City residents when we moved from California five years ago. We own property here and have Nevada driver’s licenses. We have no connection to California whatsoever and haven’t for five years.

City must move forward in unity

What Boulder City needs right now is a giant bandage.

More than two parties needed to effect change

The first ballot I cast in a presidential election was in 1972 — Nixon versus McGovern. I also served as an election judge, which is what they were called in Illinois. In Nevada, the term is poll worker (also known as election board officer). Times were different then — no computers, no voting machines, only paper ballots in my precinct.

Importance of newspapers celebrated

Sunday marked the start of the 80th annual observance of National Newspaper Week.

Choice to make at poll obvious

To say I was taken aback by the first presidential debate would be a severe understatement. While all three debaters left much to be desired, I was stunned that pollster Frank Luntz, who watched with a cadre of unsure voters, tweeted, “This debate has actually convinced some undecided voters to not vote at all.”

Make your vote count

From the very beginning of our country, voting for those who will govern us has been an intrinsic principle.

Fight against virus must continue

As we enter into the fall season, the number of new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in Clark County has been decreasing gradually over the past few weeks. Gov. Steve Sisolak has issued new guidelines as a result that allow the few businesses still closed in Boulder City to reopen. The governor is closely following the advice from health experts when issuing the guidelines. Our city government is then following the guidelines to slow the spread of the virus.

What are you going to vote for?

I’m not asking “who” you are voting for. I’m asking “what” you voting for. When we cast our ballots this November, we won’t be casting our votes for an individual, even though it seems like it. We will be casting our votes for an ideal, a concept of democracy for our nation’s republic.

Congress has way to fix unemployment problems

Folks don’t like to face problems. They’re much easier to ignore. Everyone chooses. Face problems and find a solution or have them blow up in your face. Or, maybe you’ll get lucky and the problems vanish. Or, you carry them around and suffer the consequences day by day, usually for far too long.