It’s been pretty much a year since the pandemic started, so our knowledge about this virus is greater than ever. However, there’s ton of misinformation, misunderstandings, and plain wrong facts that are still going around. In the beginning we knew almost nothing but now, there’s no excuse! Here are 6 COVID myths researchers have already debunked. Have you heard any of them?
Don’t believe every post you read about the pandemic. Here are 6 of the most common COVID-19 myths, and how researchers have proved them wrong.
The coronavirus can stay on surfaces, including cardboard, aluminum, and plastic. This is the reason why so many people only venture out using plastic gloves. In fact, in march 2020 a study showed plastic and stainless steel could host the virus for days . That study showed the virus could remain infectious on plastic and steel for 6 days, on bank notes for 3 days and up to 7 days on masks.
As the pandemic progressed, official organizations recommended consistent disinfection of surfaces. At the time, different scientists alerted that surface transmission was less risky than actual person-to-person transmission.
As of February 2021, researchers have published several opinion pieces showcasing how inhalation is the most important ‘if not dominant’ mode of transmission. According to Linsey Marr from Virginia Tech, the focus should remain on improving ventilation, enforcing mask use and decontaminating air, and not so much in disinfecting doorknobs.
These scientists consider 2020 tests of the virus on surfaces were unrealistic. For starters, experiments were done with large amounts of the virus, which had nothing to do with the trace amounts actually found on surfaces. In fact, an Israeli research group swabbed all personal items and furniture from a quarantine space. Their results are surprising: while there was trace DNA from COVID-19, none of the samples were infectious. This means the DNA came from virus ‘corpses’, but it wasn’t alive .
This doesn’t mean surfaces can’t ever transmit the virus, but the possibilities are very small. A research team found that, at the rate people usually touch doorknobs and buttons, contamination risk is less than 5 out of every 10,000 people. This is significantly lower than airborne transmission .
Nowadays, researchers know airborne transmission is the key to controlling the spread. Because of this, the focus is now on air purifying systems.
As you know, researchers around the world scrambled to get the COVID-19 vaccine out in mere months. While this is a testament to how science has evolved over the decades, it also means experts aren’t completely sure about how vaccines affect transmission.
In fact, as we write this article, scientists are racing to find a concrete answer to that question. According to a recent article published in Nature, it is very possible vaccines don’t fully stop transmission .
As of the first quarter of 2021, Israeli scientists are trying to figure out their population’s viral load. Simply put, the ‘viral load’ is how many viral particles you have in your body at any given time. The higher the number, the worse your symptoms will be.
This means that while vaccinated people are more protected from the virus, they could develop a very mild case. In those instances, one could pass on the virus, even if we feel completely fine.
Researchers know now that vaccinated people can in fact be virus carriers, even without symptoms . This is interesting, because it could mean that the vaccine could lower, but not completely halt, transmission rate. In spite of these findings, we still don’t have a conclusive answer. What we do know is that the WHO still recommends vaccinated people take the same sanitary measures as the rest of the population.
This means you still have to wear a mask, wash your hands and avoid gatherings, regardless of your vaccination status. In the meantime, researchers are trying to study larger populations to see how the vaccine affects transmission.
Hand sanitizers are recommended by the WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION, but there are specific features you need to look out for. Considering it’s the alcohol percentage what kills the virus, it’s only logical to look out for the highest alcohol content, right?
Well, researchers don’t agree.
Alcohol kills germs, including the COVID-19 virus, through a chemical process called denaturation. This happens when alcohol molecules bond to the membrane covering a virus or bacteria cell. Alcohol breaks down this wall, destroying the cell and keeping you from getting sick.
However, a higher alcohol percentage isn’t always the best choice. In fact, alcohol has the same cell-destroying capabilities on your skin cells. This means you could be doing more harm than good when choosing a very high alcohol concentration.
Several studies  have found that in cases of people constantly applying very high alcohol volumes, their hands actually started to show micro-ruptures and irritation. In turn, these make your skin’s natural protective barrier weaker. These conditions, paired with atopic dermatitis, could actually harbor more bacteria than healthy hands.
The recommendation is sticking with hand sanitizer with 60% to 70% alcohol, and use a hydrating cream every day.
While the WHO recommends both hand sanitizers and regular soap to get rid of germs, researchers now one of them works best. In fact, a recent study showed that traditional soap and water will always be better than any hand sanitizer.
In the 2020 study, researchers found hand sanitizers kill between 60% and 95% of germs and viruses. However, this was only if you used 2.4 milliliters of product, and applied it for at least 25 seconds .
However, the problem with hand sanitizers is user error. Typically, we just don’t apply them for enough time. Think back to the last time you used hand sanitizer: did you really spend 25 seconds or more rubbing it into every nook and cranny?
The other issue with hand sanitizer is that they lose alcohol with time. The first thing you should do before using a bottle is checking the expiration date: never apply hand sanitizer past the date, there is no guarantee of effectiveness. Then, it’s important to consider alcohol also evaporates from the moment you start using your bottle. Your specific product’s evaporation rate will vary based on the original product’s alcohol concentration, the bottle, and how you use it. It’s important to close the lid as soon as possible after applying product.
Plus, hand sanitizer is almost useless if you have visibly dirty hands. Grease, sweat and dirt covering your skin prevent the alcohol from actually touching the skin surface. This means the germs will stay there. In those cases, the CDC recommends using soap and water .
Because of these issues, water and soap are significantly more efficient at getting rid of virus and bacteria. Use hand sanitizer as a backup, and wash your hands the old way whenever possible.
By now, we know older adults are the most affected by COVID-19 infections. However, this doesn’t mean younger people are out of the woods.
In fact, a recent UK study showed that, even if in general infection was less severe than in other populations, young adults could need hospitalization. After surveying 3,000 adults aged 18 to 34 who contracted COVID-19 with symptoms, 21% spent time in the ICU, 10% required a ventilator and around 2.7% died .
While these numbers are significantly lower than those for older adults, they are still significant enough to warrant attention.
According to other reports, young people -including children- are more at risk of contracting COVID-19 because of their work and school environment. While older adults tend to stay at home, young adults are the bulk of the active workforce and are consistently exposed. Children, on the other hand, tend to present very mild cases. However, they still can transmit the disease to their families and classmates.
So, how to deal? Well, experts recommend following sanitary guidelines like wearing a mask, physical distancing and washing the hands consistently.
This is one of the trickiest myths, because scientists are in the midst of research. While they don’t know the exact mechanisms, one thing is sure: some people can get COVID twice.
In the beginning stages of the pandemic, researchers thought COVID was like chicken pox, which causes immunity. This means that once you caught the disease and survived, you wouldn’t catch it again.
However, certain viruses can change fast enough that the same individual could get infected again. COVID, like all viruses, mutates on a regular basis. Virus do this to improve their chances of living. This is why researchers can track infections: each new infection has a different ‘genetic footprint’ that one can theoretically compare to others and follow to the source.
Reinfection is different from the so-called COVID-syndrome, or long-haul COVID. The latter is when an infected individual shows consistent symptoms and a viral load that never fully goes away. This means these patients are still going through the disease, even if it’s weeks after the original infection. In the case of long-haul COVID, it’s the same virus strain causing the infection.
In contrast, reinfection happens when someone gets over one strain of the virus, then contracts a second strain, and falls ill again. Researchers are worried because this could mean immunity doesn’t last long, much like it happens with the common flu. In the case of the flu, strains change so fast that scientists make a new vaccine every year to prevent contracting the disease.
As of February 2021, researchers are still unsure about reinfection rates among COVID survivors. Currently, experts state that reinfections are possible, but still rare. Officially, only 50 reinfection cases have been diagnosed in the US, but these low numbers could be caused by a lack of proof.
For a reinfection to be officially diagnosed, doctors need to prove the second infection was caused by a different strain. This means researchers need to compare the genetic code from the first diagnosis, to the genes of the second diagnosis. Since many labs didn’t keep all their test samples, it isn’t always possible to do the comparison.
The bad news is, the faster the virus replicates, the likelier it is people will start getting ill again. In fact, early studies suggest immunity -both from the vaccine and from actual infection- might be short-lived. As of now, researchers still don’t know how long immunity lasts but recovering patients should be safe for at least several weeks. Beyond that, there is no official timeframe.
After a year of dealing with the pandemic, many things are still very uncertain. We’ve made great strides towards normalcy, but the road ahead looks difficult. For the time being, the least we can do is fight misinformation. Hopefully you have a better idea now that we’ve debunked these COVID myths!