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Guest opinion

Ignore disinformation & rely on science to get through COVID-19 pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed, we have seen an alarming amount of disinformation spread online, including by our elected officials. Take the conspiracy video "Plandemic," which alleges that the coronavirus was created in a lab and intentionally spread to generate profit.

The video went viral and has been viewed more than eight million times. In comparison, informational videos from the scientists at the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control and World Health Organization typically get no more than a few thousand views.

"Plandemic" is just one of many sources of disinformation that offer inaccurate advice to protecting oneself from COVID-19.

Conspiracy videos recommend everything from drinking water every 15 minutes and avoiding ice cream to drinking silver and consuming a lot of garlic.

Doctors find themselves powerless to help patients who dismiss the severity of the virus and listen to conspiracists over the advice of medical professionals.

Some patients are going as far as ingesting disinfectants because they have heard it will treat the virus; according to the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, more than 800 patients have died after consuming highly concentrated alcohol in ill-guided attempts to treat the prevent or treat the virus.

A company that calls itself "Genesis II Church of Health and Healing" even proclaimed its "Miracle Mineral Supplement," which contains industrial bleach that can cause kidney, respiratory, or liver failure if ingested, could treat and prevent COVID-19.

The FDA had to hurriedly warn the public about the risks of consuming the product.

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As if we don't have enough to deal with, our elected officials routinely ignore science too.

Less than two weeks before the virus put the entire country into lockdown, President Donald Trump still insisted that COVID-19 was a hoax, but even once he realized it clearly was not, he still did not take it seriously.

Despite advice from our public health leaders to practice social distancing and wear masks to prevent the spread of the virus, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence refuse to wear masks in public. Pence leads the White House's coronavirus task force, yet he toured the Mayo Clinic without a mask on April 28 (that same day, the U.S. reached one million COVID-19 cases). Meanwhile, Trump encouraged Americans to take hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19 without reputable evidence that the drug was effective. The FDA then rushed to give emergency authorization of the drug, only to revoke it a few months later after research concluded it is not an effective treatment or preventative measure against COVID-19.

Amid lies and conspiracy theories, our light at the end of the tunnel is scientific innovation.

Thanks to a round-the-clock collaboration between the public and private sectors, there are several COVID-19 vaccines and treatments in development. One, for example, blocks the novel coronavirus from binding to human cells and reproducing; by stopping the virus from connecting with human cells, the drug prevents it from multiplying and attacking the body.

There are more than 100 different vaccines at various stages of development, and researchers are using different avenues such as gene therapy, DNA, and antibodies from survivors to develop an effective vaccine.

U.S. health care innovation has saved millions of lives.

HIV is now a manageable disease, no longer a death sentence. Thanks to developments in early-detection mammogram technology, female breast cancer cases dropped by 40 percent in 2016. We now have a drug that can treat over 90 percent of Hepatitis C patients, whereas older drugs took nearly a year to become effective and even then only worked on 50 percent of patients.

History teaches us that our best bet is to support the researchers working to develop treatments and vaccines for COVID-19.

We owe it to the frontline essential workers—our grocery store workers, healthcare workers, sanitation services, public transit operators, and so many more—risking their lives every day to do better in this pandemic.

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We need to ignore disinformation, whether it comes from the Internet or the White House, and instead follow the advice of our public health professionals. Supporting and investing in their research and innovation will get us through this crisis.

Michael Wentzel, M.D., was a nurse for 16 years with experiences ranging from trauma and intensive care to flight nursing and nursing hospital supervisor, both military and civilian, before going to medical school.

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Michael Wentzel