COVID-19 Denial Still Rampant In Some Virus Hotspots

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As healthcare professionals grapple with soaring numbers of COVID-19 sickened people around the country, they’re also combatting another quick-spreading and frustrating contagion: misinformation.

Robert F. Bukaty/AP


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Robert F. Bukaty/AP


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A few cars down, Marvin Loftis removed his mask to say that he thinks the virus is a joke. «It’s just another cold,» he said.

A survey by the Pew Research Center earlier this year found that a quarter of U.S. adults believe that there’s at least some truth to a conspiracy theory, which alleges the coronavirus pandemic was intentionally started. Others allege that the outbreak isn’t as bad as reported; that a quarter million Americans haven’t died. Official narratives and figures are questioned.

«These conspiracy theorists and these groups who are against [masks] have been so vocal on social media that at some point, it starts to resonate with people and starts to have as big of a voice as the medical community — if not more,» said Anita Kisseé, the public relations manager for St. Luke’s, the largest hospital network in Idaho, where coronavirus cases are also surging.

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A sign at a coffee shop reminds customers that masks are required by Montana’s governor. The mandate, shop owners say, helps limit confrontations.

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Nathan Rott/NPR

Kalispell Regional Hospital is recruiting frontline workers like Dr. Randy Zuckerman to tell personal stories of dealing with COVID-19 for their «Stop the Surge» campaign.

Kalispell Regional Hospital


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Kalispell Regional Hospital

Clear, consistent messaging

Public health experts say the need for clear, consistent messaging from frontline workers to national leaders has never been greater.

Ruth Parker, a professor at the Emory University School of Medicine, who studies health literacy, said that part of what’s fed into the «chaos of content,» the nation is experiencing is the politicization of maskwearing and the virus’ origins by President Donald Trump, among others, and the fact that public health officials didn’t adequately express the uncertainty of COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic.

«We missed an opportunity to to really take advantage of trying to work with people to understand what happens when something is new and you don’t know much about it,» she said. «You have to learn as you go.»

The effectiveness of masks is a good example. Scientists now know that wearing a mask protects the wearer, not just others. That point was only emphasized by the Centers for Disease Control last week.

For those in the general public who are already skeptical of the government narrative, Parker said, shifting messages without clear explanation only breeds more uncertainty into a moment already loaded with it.

«It’s such a scary time and I think the climate is so ripe for being frustrated, being confused and probably not knowing what to do or how to navigate it,» she said.

It makes sense that people are downplaying or denying the virus’ existence, Parker said. It’s a coping mechanism.

  • COVID-19
  • coronavirus

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