|Not just a river in Egypt|
|♫ We're not listening ♫|
“”Just like 9/11 brought people into conspiracies, Covid was another moment when people were scared and wanted answers, and they found conspiracy influencers saying: 'Don't worry about it, it's not real.'
|—Former conspiracy theorist Brent Lee|
This form of denialism is perpetuated in various ways. It may be propounded through the notion that COVID-19 isn't dangerous at all; that the death rate is "tiny"; that those with "strong immune systems" shall "prevail", etc. Many cranks simply believe COVID-19 is no different from influenza, thus they are unable to take the solemn threat this pandemic poses seriously. This denialism may go further and outright state that COVID-19 isn't real, hence the term "plandemic"; that somehow an entire pandemic can be orchestrated by governments and scientists.
Denialism is also perpetuated through challenging governments' responses, specifically ones that effectively tackle the pandemic; including but not limited to mandating vaccines, medical-grade masks (such as KN95s and N95s), face shields, social distancing, medical gloves and thermometer checks, quarantining positive cases, utilizing ventilation and air filtration both with HEPA filters in all buildings, instating lockdowns, promoting frequent handwashing, implementing free COVID-19 testing for all, utilizing contact tracing, paying people to stay home, banning large gatherings and indoor dining, closing the schools and subsequently switching to online-only education, closing all non-essential businesses, requiring that restaurants and grocery stores have delivery-only services, utilizing vaccine passports (and requiring them for entry into numerous locations), travel bans (e.g., banning all cruise operations, plane travel, etc) implementing public messaging and education for COVID-19, and disinfecting surfaces in essential businesses. This is an extensive list indeed. Many COVID-19 denialists cleave to a libertarian doctrine, which states that any policy intended to mitigate COVID-19 violates individual freedoms, and thus must be rejected for being "authoritarian."
This form of denialism frequently coincides with germ theory denial, because COVID-19 is an airborne disease; it spreads through the air via aerosols and droplets. COVID-19 denialists ignore this because they do not wish to believe it, or haven't the slightest clue what germ theory even is in the first place.
In a nutshell, COVID-19 denialists believe that is fine and dandy, that no mass deaths are occurring, that any actions taken against the pandemic are "unnecessary" and "excessive" and that COVID-19 isn't so bad or perhaps doesn't exist. COVID-19 denialism is quite an incredulous ideology, which refuses to acknowledge the inevitable harsh realities of a pandemic.
Common arguments and refutations
Coronavirus has a 99% survival rate (or a very, very small mortality rate).
- Then-US President Donald Trump claimed in a speech on July 4, 2020, that 99 percent of COVID-19 cases are "totally harmless." Then on September 22, after the U.S. had 200,000 deaths from COVID-19, Trump said that COVID-19 affects "[e]lderly people with heart problems and other problems...But it affects virtually nobody."
- Former U.S. Representative Allen West shared on his Facebook page an image macro that said that coronavirus had a "99% survival rate."
"Totally harmless" is meaningless in terms of science, but even disregarding that, Trump's estimate is extremely inaccurate. If this were referring to asymptomatic cases, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 35 percent of cases are asymptomatic, but that statistic alone must be viewed in the context that people without coronavirus symptoms can still spread the virus to others who could face different outcomes. Additionally, just because someone doesn't experience symptoms right away (or even at all), doesn't necessarily mean that they are in good health. Furthermore, while it is technically accurate that the mortality rate is around 1 percent according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the WHO also estimates that 20% of people diagnosed with coronavirus will require hospitalization or a ventilator.
Applying these statistics to the U.S. population (estimated at 328 million), in a theoretical U.S. where everyone were to be infected, a 1% mortality rate would lead to 3.28 million deaths, and 20 percent hospitalization would require 65.6 million hospital beds (and millions, possibly billions in hospital bills).
"While SARS-2 is less deadly than SARS-1 in a given single case, that does not mean that it's less dangerous overall," wrote Nicholas A. Christakis in his 2020 book Apollo's Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live. This is because SARS-2 (COVID-19) can be transmitted before a carrier shows symptoms and has a latency period (the period between infection to infectiousness; meaning that a host can be infectious whilst being asymptomatic) often shorter than the incubation period (the time between infection and the first symptoms). Thus, COVID-19 has a uniquely rapid transmission rate.
In August 2020, ESPN revealed possible long-term organ damage that could result from coronavirus: myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle. That condition was found in college football players in the U.S., putting at jeopardy the 2020 college football season.
This claim also peddles eugenics by claiming that 1 percent of people being lost isn't a tragedy; that millions of lives can be culled, and that their deaths do not matter because they constitute "such a small group of individuals." If you were among those 1 percent of people, would you like to be told, whilst dying, that your life doesn't matter? That you are part of a diminutive minority of people who simply are "unfortunate"?
The death rate is over-counted due to coronavirus being a comorbidity.
- Allen West wrote: "… COVID-19 is most dangerous for those with underlying medical conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, COPD, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity."
- In April 2020, Fox News host Tucker Carlson attributed a sudden drop in pneumonia deaths to the CDC classifying such deaths as being from coronavirus.
Carlson's interpretation is premature because mortality data can take anywhere from two to eight weeks to be finalized. Also, the lack of testing makes a stronger case that coronavirus deaths are being under-counted.
Coronavirus is no worse than the common cold or flu. (Alternative forms: The flu kills more people.)
- In early May 2020, when the U.S. coronavirus death toll was around 60,000, West compared that number of deaths to the 61,000 deaths in the 2017-18 influenza season.
- The flu season comparison is a false analogy, because the flu season lasts around six months. West's comparison happened when the coronavirus pandemic had not even eclipsed two months.
- Besides the flawed comparison of mortality rates, coronavirus has factors of harm unlike the flu: a lack of a vaccine (until 2021) or herd immunity and much higher contagion and hospitalization rates.
The swine flu and past epidemics have been more deadly than COVID-19.
When looking beyond the raw numbers, this a false analogy. Estimates for H1N1 (swine flu) worldwide deaths during the 19-month pandemic that lasted from 2009 to 2010 range from around 150,000 to 575,000. But that was in over one and a half years. Meanwhile, nearly 130,000 people in the U.S. alone have died from COVID-19 in just under four months as of July 6, 2020.
The more testing, the more cases!
The reason more cases are being reported is due to more testing being done.
Refutation: According to an analysis by Stat News, more testing revealing more cases was the situation in only seven U.S. states out of 33 that had increased cases between mid-May and mid-July 2020. In the other 26 states, the increase in cases was truly due to a greater spread of the virus. ProPublica made similar findings in late June.
We need to achieve herd immunity!
The only way we will get a handle of this virus, is if we go about our lives and let the virus work its way through society.
"We are aggressively sheltering those at highest risk, especially the elderly, while allowing lower-risk Americans to safely return to work and to school, and we want to see so many of those great states be open. We want them to be open. They have to be open. They have to get back to work." Trump RNC 2020 Convention
"When younger, healthier people get the disease, they don’t have a problem with the disease. I'm not sure why that’s so difficult for everyone to acknowledge. These people getting the infection is not really a problem, and in fact, as we said months ago, when you isolate everyone, including all the healthy people, you're prolonging the problem because you're preventing population immunity. Low-risk groups getting the infection is not a problem." Scott Atlas (the anti-Dr. Fauci) on Fox News in July
"As immunity builds in the population, the risk of infection to all – including the vulnerable – falls. We know that all populations will eventually reach herd immunity – i.e. the point at which the rate of new infections is stable – and that this can be assisted by (but is not dependent upon) a vaccine. Our goal should therefore be to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity." - the Great Barrington Declaration
This relies on two bits of denialism, first that the spread can be controlled, and second that it isn't as damaging to human body as it really is. The idea being that if the disease spreads, you can protect the most vulnerable people, allowing it to infect the population who will eventually develop antibodies, eventually dying out because it can no longer infect people. This rarely happens naturally, recent history has seen NGO's and governments pursue massive vaccination efforts, with the goal of reaching community immunity, which is different for every disease. Because so little is still known about COVID, there are estimates about the percentage of the population that would need immunity, somewhere between 40-70% (more infectious variants of COVID that started appearing in 2021 would make that a higher percentage since herd immunity levels are proportional to infectivity).
- The virus is spreading uncontrollably right now: To achieve this you would need to guarantee that the most vulnerable populations would be protected, evidence this can be done in the US is scant, especially when one considers that around 50% of the deaths are connected to nursing homes, presumably the most vulnerable population.
- The amount of death necessary is intolerable: The United States has done an exceptionally good job at treating the virus, but getting rid of the current limited restrictions, may risk local health systems getting overwhelmed. And, at current mortality rates, and a 65% target immunity, this would sacrifice around 2 million Americans.
- The long term effects of the disease are still unknown: There are reports of major intestinal and cognitive ailments that have appeared after an infection (so-called "long COVID"). Considering that the American healthcare infrastructure depends on healthy people paying for sick people, millions of new sick people would endanger the system.
- It already didn't work: Many conservatives talk about the "Swedish Model" in dealing with Covid-19. Health officials in Sweden opted for a hands off approach, with restrictions only for the most vulnerable. This resulted in Sweden's infection and fatality rates being significantly higher than their neighbors in Finland and Norway, while still suffering the economic collapse that everyone else is suffering. Health officials in Sweden have already stated that if they could, they would go back and change their approach.
COVID-19 is caused by 5G
Masks don't work
Generally, this argument relies on a statement without context, and medical quackery. It's true that at the beginning of the pandemic, the signals from the federal government did not recommend facial coverings. This statement was based on the information they had received from Chinese officials that the virus was not airborne. This turned out to be false, and there is some evidence that the Trump Administration knew it to be false. However, Dr. Fauci in later comments specified that the threat at the time was a lack of personal protective equipment for medical workers and that demand from the general population would only increase scarcity, threatening the stability of medical infrastructure across the country. The other arguments against masks rely on a bunch of arguments, such as that they reduce O2 levels, that they don't stop the virus because the fabric isn't tight enough, etc. All of it is bollocks, study after study shows that facial coverings are an integral part of defeating COVID-19.
Some of the more sophisticated anti-maskers may cite studies and random clinical trials that supposedly show the inefficacy of masks. For instance, some might latch on to the Cochrane review, which found that "Wearing masks in the community probably makes little or no difference to the outcome of laboratory-confirmed influenza/SARS-CoV-2 compared to not wearing masks." However, there are various limitations that show that the Cochrane review isn't the smoking gun anti-maskers think it is. For instance, only six of the 78 trials included in the study were conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic; the others focused on other respiratory illnesses like the flu. Many of the studies focused on interventions other than masks, like hand-washing - only two studies focused on COVID-19 and masking. It also combined studies where masks/respirators were used consistently with those where they were used inconsistently. The Cochrane review itself acknowledges these limitations, and it should not be considered as the definitive statement against masks. Furthermore, the first author of the review, Tom Jefferson, has many bizarre and nonsensical positions on COVID-19, such as the belief that the virus did not originate in China and had been circulating around in Europe before it became... well, y'know.
Vitamins prevent COVID-19 infection
While having vitamins in your diet is essential to biological functions such as immune function, it is not a replacement for a vaccine. Megadosing might reduce the severity of infection, but you can still infect other people.
List of COVID-19 deniers
- HIV/AIDS denialism - Another denialism movement centered around a disease, which featured similar tactics and arguments
- Escape from the rabbit hole: the conspiracy theorist who abandoned his dangerous beliefs, The Guardian
- Reston, Maeve. "Trump uses July 4th address to put forward a dangerously misleading claim." CNN: July 5, 2020. Accessed July 5, 2020.
- O'Kane, Caitlin. "Trump said coronavirus 'affects virtually nobody,' as U.S. surpasses 200,000 deaths." CBS News: September 22, 2020. Accessed October 4, 2020.
- West, Allen. "My quote is taken from the article here..." Facebook post from April 28, 2020. Accessed July 5, 2020.
- "Asymptomatic COVID: Silent, but Maybe Not Harmless". WebMD. 11 August 2020.
- Veronica Stracqualursi and Sarah Westwood, "FDA commissioner refuses to defend Trump claim that 99% of Covid-19 cases are 'harmless'." CNN: July 5, 2020. Accessed July 5, 2020.
- Nicholas A. Christakis (2020). Apollo's Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live. New York: Little, Brown Spark. p. 46.
- Christakis 2020, p. 48.
- Lavigne, Paula, and Schlabach, Mark. "Heart condition linked with COVID-19 fuels Power 5 concern about season's viability." ESPN. August 10, 2020. Accessed August 14, 2020.
- Colvin, Jill, and Miller, Zeke. "Trump says he and first lady tested positive for coronavirus." Associated Press: October 1, 2020. Accessed October 4, 2020
- Miller, Zeke; Colvin, Jill; and Lemire, Jonathan. "Trump, stricken by COVID-19, flown to military hospital." Associated Press: October 2, 2020. Accessed October 4, 2020.
- Krepel, Terry. "CNS' West Embraces Dubious Stats And Misinformation." ConWebBlog: May 25, 2020. Accessed July 5, 2020.
- Blake, Aaron. "Birx and Fauci reject Fox News-promoted theory that coronavirus deaths are inflated." The Washington Post: April 8, 2020. Accessed July 5, 2020.
- Radcliffe, Shawn. "Here’s Why COVID-19 Is Much Worse Than the Flu." Healthline: May 14, 2020. Accessed July 5, 2020.
- Maragakis, Lisa Lockerd. "Coronavirus Disease 2019 vs. the Flu." Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed July 5, 2020.
- Rettner, Rachael. "How does the new coronavirus compare with the flu?" LiveScience: May 14, 2020. Accessed July 5, 2020.
- Heneghan, Carl, and Jefferson, Tom. "COVID-19 deaths compared with “Swine Flu”." Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine: April 9, 2020. Accessed July 6, 2020.
- Shumaker, Lisa, and Fagenson, Zachary. "Miami rolls back restaurant dining as U.S. coronavirus deaths top 130,000." Reuters: July 6, 2020. Accessed July 6, 2020.
- Begley, Sharon (July 20, 2020). "Trump said more Covid-19 testing ‘creates more cases.’ We did the math." Stat News. Accessed August 15, 2020.
- Ornstein, Charles, and Ngu, Ash (June 25, 2020). "No, President Trump, Testing Is Not Causing Case Counts to Rise. The Virus Is Just Spreading Faster." ProPublica. Accessed August 15, 2020.
- New Trump pandemic adviser pushes controversial ‘herd immunity’ strategy, worrying public health officials The Washington Post 31 August 2020
- The false promise of herd immunity for COVID-19 (21 Oct 2020) Nature
- Fact check: Outdated video of Fauci saying “there’s no reason to be walking around with a mask” Reuters 8 October 2020
- Face Coverings Don’t Limit Oxygen Levels – Here’s Why Samaritan Health Services 10 November 2020
- Still Confused About Masks? Here’s the Science Behind How Face Masks Prevent Coronavirus University of California San Francisco 26 June 2020
- Emma P. Fischer, et al. Low-cost measurement of face mask efficacy for filtering expelled droplets during speech Science Advances (Volume 6, Number 36), American Association for the Advancement of Science. 2 September 2020
- Wei Lyu & George L. Wehby. Community Use Of Face Masks And COVID-19: Evidence From A Natural Experiment Of State Mandates In The US Health Affairs (volume 39, number 8), Project HOPE. 16 June 2020
- C. Raina MacIntyre & Abrar Ahmad Chughtai. A rapid systematic review of the efficacy of face masks and respirators against coronaviruses and other respiratory transmissible viruses for the community, healthcare workers and sick patients International Journal of Nursing Studies (Volume 108), Elsevier. August 2020
- Jefferson T, Dooley L, Ferroni E, Al-Ansary LA, van Driel ML, Bawazeer GA, Jones MA, Hoffmann TC, Clark J, Beller EM, Glasziou PP, Conly JM. Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2023, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD006207. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006207.pub6. Accessed 27 February 2023.
- C Raina MacIntyre Professor of Global Biosecurity, et al. “Yes, Masks Reduce the Risk of Spreading COVID, despite a Review Saying They Don't.” The Conversation, 6 Feb. 2023, https://theconversation.com/yes-masks-reduce-the-risk-of-spreading-covid-despite-a-review-saying-they-dont-198992.
- Piper, Kelsey. “The New Scientific Review on Masks and Covid Isn't What You Think.” Vox, Vox, 22 Feb. 2023, https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2023/2/22/23609499/masks-covid-coronavirus-cochrane-review-pandemic-science-studies-infection.
- Sloat, Sarah. “Do Masks Work? What the Cochrane Review Can and Can't Tell Us.” Health, Health, 24 Feb. 2023, https://www.health.com/cochrane-review-do-masks-work-7112631.
- Live Science