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Debunking Coronavirus Myths

Debunking Coronavirus Myths
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Published on April 8, 2020

This article was updated on January 6th, 2021

7 Myths About COVID-19

I already had COVID-19, so I can’t spread it. I tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies so I’m immune. I’m young and healthy — even if I get it, it’s no big deal.

With so much information being circulated about the novel coronavirus, it can be difficult to distinguish facts from myths. Our understanding of COVID-19 evolves quickly as researchers and medical professionals discover more about how the virus functions. As our knowledge expands, it is important to address myths surrounding the coronavirus to keep those around us safe and healthy. Keep reading to learn more.

Myth: Young people are immune to contracting the coronavirus.

Fact: Early in the pandemic, COVID-19 cases were highest among older adults. However, the median age of those diagnosed decreased from 46 in May to 37 in July and 38 in August, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). From June to August, COVID-19 incidence was highest among those 20–29 years old, who accounted for more than 20% of all confirmed cases. Adults between ages 20 and 39 likely contributed to community spread of COVID-19 in southern states, the CDC reported. A rising percentage of positive tests in that age group was followed by a rising percentage of positive tests among adults 60 years and older.

Myth: Young people are immune to severe COVID-19 illness.

Fact: A research paper published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that among more than 3,200 adults ages 18 to 34 who were hospitalized with the disease, 21% required intensive care, 10% required mechanical ventilation, and nearly 3% — 88 patients — died. "While the vast majority of young adults who get COVID are not going to require hospitalization, those who do have a really high risk for these adverse outcomes," said study author Dr. Scott Solomon, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, in an interview with NBC. "It is not trivial."

Myth: You can’t get COVID twice.

Fact: Researchers have found a growing number of individuals who’ve caught the coronavirus twice. An 89-year-old woman in the Netherlands died after getting COVID-19 a second time while she was being treated for Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia, a rare type of blood cancer that begins in the white blood cells. The first confirmed case of reinfection was reported in Hong Kong on Aug. 24; 23 others had been reported by mid-October, according to the BNO News reinfection tracker. In all of the other cases, the patients recovered.

Myth: Flying on a plane is a higher risk activity than going to the grocery store.

Fact: The risk of catching the coronavirus on an airplane is very low — lower than activities such as grocery shopping and indoor dining if certain precautions are followed, researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said. Because of the frequent exchange of air and HEPA filters on planes, more than 99% of the particles containing the virus are removed from the cabin air. Universal wearing of facemasks, distancing protocols during boarding and deplaning, and disinfecting high-touch aircraft surfaces “significantly reduce risks of viral transmission aboard an airplane.” Another study conducted by the Department of Defense in partnership with United Airlines found that when masks are worn there is only a 0.003% chance that particles from a passenger can enter the breathing space of the passenger who is sitting beside them. That being said, air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals where you may come in close contact with others. Staying home is still the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19, the CDC says.

Myth: You only need to wear a mask if you feel sick.

Fact: Early in the pandemic, the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that only healthcare workers and those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should wear masks. (Healthy people should wear them only if they are taking care of someone who is sick). In fact, the Surgeon General urged people to stop buying masks, saying they were not effective in preventing the general public from catching the coronavirus. Since then, public health officials have learned that the virus can be spread by people not showing symptoms. In a review of 79 studies, an estimated 20% of people infected with the coronavirus had no symptoms. Asymptomatic carriers can increase the disease's spread if they aren't taking proper precautions, including wearing a mask, washing their hands frequently, and social distancing.

Myth: Temperature checks can protect you from contracting the coronavirus.

Fact: Fever is generally the first sign of coronavirus infection, but it is not a universal symptom. This means that the temperature checks being administered at airports, schools and many businesses are unlikely to detect every active COVID-19 infection. In a telephone survey of 200 patients with COVID-19, about 55.5% reported a fever. Another study found that out of 5,700 confirmed cases of COVID-19, only 30.7% of people had a fever when admitted to a hospital. Additionally, a March 2020 report from WHO stated that around 80% of people with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms or none at all. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said that temperature checks are not reliable for COVID screening.

Myth: Testing positive for antibodies means you can’t transmit COVID-19.

Fact: There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection, according to WHO. The agency notes that inaccurate tests could falsely label people who have been infected as negative, and people who have not been infected as positive. For example, if you test negative for COVID-19 antibodies, you could still have an active infection, but be too early in the course of the infection to have built up the antibodies against it. This means that you could be spreading the virus to others unknowingly.

Bottom line: Protect yourself and others: wear a mask indoors, and outdoors if social distancing isn’t possible; wash your hands often; try to keep six feet (or more) between you and others; disinfect commonly used surfaces regularly; and monitor your health daily. These guidelines are especially important for those ages 65 and over and those with underlying health conditions. Everyone, including the young and healthy, should avoid taking unnecessary risks.

Looking Ahead: The FDA recently granted emergency use authorization to Moderna and Pfizer for their COVID-19 vaccines. Learn more here: 8 Things to Know about the U.S. COVID-19 Vaccination Program | CDC.

~ Megan Trusdell

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.


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