Misinformation around COVID-19 is rampant; here's the easiest way to set the record straight

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Very few situations are black-and-white; except perhaps that my wife is the best. There are often nuances that need to be considered to get the full picture. This applies to the topic of COVID-19 just as much, if not more, than anything else. While some facts are clear to most, others... not so much. So what went wrong? And is there a way to try to bridge the gap between polarized groups of people who clearly get their information from different sources?

First, it seems clear that everybody agrees on at least 1 thing: 

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus labelled SARS-COV-2.

However, it seems that we cannot move even 1 more step forward without running into disagreements! Try to answer any of these questions and you will not find a consensus:

  • What's the origin of the new coronavirus?
  • How quickly does the virus get transmitted between individuals?
  • Once infected, what are all the potential symptoms of COVID-19?
  • What is the proportion of infected individuals who display symptoms?
  • What are the treatments that help COVID-19 patients get better?
  • How many people have died because of COVID-19?
  • What is the death rate of infected individuals?
  • What are the factors that influence the chances of survival?
  • Why did Bill Gates create the virus using 5G technology?
  • Etc...

All kinds of experts, from scientists with PHDs to YouTubers with large egos, have weighed in on these questions. 

However, we are all bombarded by so much information (it's Al Gore's fault) that it's hard to figure out who's telling the truth, be it on purpose or not. Because, as a side note, that's one of the tragedies here... perhaps I am naïve but, I don't think there are that many people lying on purpose. Most people just re-share, re-tweet, or simply believe something they read because it seems right, without thinking too much about it. Therefore, when faced with a different answer, we all conclude that the "other side" must be wrong, if not flat out insane. Nobody thinks they are the sheep; everybody else is.

Overheard somewhere: so Hugo, you're working on this thing called the World of Facts, why haven't you solved all of our disagreements and misinformation problems already?

Going back to our list of questions, is there one that we can identify as being contentious, yet easy to answer, one way or the other? I think the answer is a solid... kind of. And I won't say which one yet, I will just start with some assumptions.


Remember, this is just a BLOG,  

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Assumption 1: municipalities report the number of people who die within their jurisdictions as accurately as possible.

Assumption 2: the city of New York is no exception to assumption 1; the reported number of people who died each week since January 2017 is fairly accurate. 

Assumption 3: given assumptions 1 and 2, the weekly number of deaths (from all causes) displayed on the USA's CDC website is an accurate representation/model of the real number of deaths in New York City over the last 4 years.

In other words, I am assuming that New York city's authorities have not purposely forged numbers; what we see on the CDC's website is reliable, within a small margin of error. We can thus look at the data to see how the number of people who have died within the city, from all causes combined, has changed over time.

So what do we get if we look around April 2020 for New York City's weekly deaths numbers?

  • March 28th: 1,700 more deaths than an average week
  • April 4th: 5,100
  • April 11th: 7,700 (600% compared to the average week)
  • April 18th: 4,800
  • April 25th: 3,000
  • May 2nd: 2,800

And what does that mean?

Over the last 3 years, there were around 1,000 people reported to have died within New York City in any given week. However, around the month of April 2020, the average was above 4,000 per week, 4x the normal. In other words, within a 6-week period, New York City recorded the deaths of around 31,000 people, which is 25,000 additional deaths (roughly 4 times) more than any random 6-week period.

What else does it mean?

During a 6-week period around April 2020, COVID-19 probably caused the deaths, directly or indirectly, of 25,000 people within New York City. In any given year, these people would not have died, even if COVID-19 was only the indirect cause of their deaths, in cases where someone was already critically ill for instance.

What does that not mean?

This, however, does not tell much more, on its own. These facts do not mean the virus is directly killing people at any specific rate, it doesn't mean we know how it spreads, it doesn't mean we know how it originated and it doesn't tell us much about what we are supposed to do. Each individual piece of information should be taken on its own and verified, before jumping to any other conclusions.


There would be a lot more to discuss and investigate after that, obviously, but I will let you continue your own quest, and I hope that you will tell me if something looks wrong here. 

However, I would hate myself for not ending on a more positive note, as that does not mean that we should be in complete fear of COVID-19; it just means that we need to be vigilant. In other words, the good news here is that the viral infection was controlled relatively quickly in NYC. Back in April, we knew so little (even though we could have, but that's a different story...) yet people managed to change some of their habits quickly to avoid an even worse situation. It's a super crowded city where the spread was swift, and could continue to be. Yet, since then, even though cases have kept being reported, we don't see any giant scary spikes, and hospitals are not overflowing.

Therefore, this also implies that, as hard as the measures can be, we are truly saving lives here. If only we could help more those who suffer economically, socially, or mentally, throughout this pandemic, I think we could really come out of this mess stronger together.

-- Written by Hugo for the World of Facts

Remember, this is just a BLOG, 

please visit the prototype at WorldOfFactsGame.com


  1. On Facebook, a user commented:
    it's demonstrably true as well, depending on which epidemiologists you ask:
    there are thousands of doctors, many of them in highly respected positions of leadership, who dissent with the consensus narrative on covid. the above study shows one reason why, indicating that asymptomatic spread (and policies based on it like masking and distancing) is a total misnomer.

    There are many claims in this comment. None directly addressing the post; but all interesting to address as they are related to COVID-19. The following comments will take each claim one at a time.

  2. 1) First, the linked article: Post-lockdown SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid screening in nearly ten million residents of Wuhan, China
    Excellent source for a topic in biology, with some good news from Wuhan.

    Context: Testing was done after Wuhan reopened, after 2 months with just a few cases (6 newly confirmed cases from April 8 to May 10, 2020, the article states). The Nature article, submitted on 18 August 2020 and published in November 2020, analyzes the results of those tests performed on 9.9M people, 87% of the city’s population.

    - Found no newly confirmed cases with COVID-19
    - The detection rate of asymptomatic positive cases was very low
    - Compared with symptomatic patients, asymptomatic infected persons generally have low quantity of viral loads and a short duration of viral shedding, which decrease the transmission risk of SARS-CoV-2
    - In the present study, virus culture was carried out on samples from asymptomatic positive cases, and found no viable SARS-CoV-2 virus.
    - found no evidence that repositive cases in recovered COVID-19 patients were infectious, which is consistent with evidence from other sources
    - Nonetheless, it is too early to be complacent, because of the existence of asymptomatic positive cases and high level of susceptibility in residents in Wuhan. Public health measures for the prevention and control of COVID-19 epidemic, including wearing masks, keeping safe social distancing in Wuhan should be sustained. Especially, vulnerable populations with weakened immunity or co-morbidities, or both, should continue to be appropriately shielded.
    -In summary, the detection rate of asymptomatic positive cases in the post-lockdown Wuhan was very low (0.303/10,000), and there was no evidence that the identified asymptomatic positive cases were infectious. These findings enabled decision makers to adjust prevention and control strategies in the post-lockdown period. Further studies are required to fully evaluate the impacts and cost-effectiveness of the citywide screening of SARS-CoV-2 infections on population’s health, health behaviours, economy, and society.

  3. 2) Second,quote:
    there are thousands of doctors, many of them in highly respected positions of leadership, who dissent with the consensus narrative on covid

    People disagree for sure, yes. The ‘consensus narrative’ is vague; there is some consensus on some things, among experts and non-experts. I think the point is probably about what comes next:

    3) Third, quote:
    the above study shows one reason why, indicating that asymptomatic spread (and policies based on it like masking and distancing) is a total misnomer.

    First, the article explicitly states “Public health measures for the prevention and control of COVID-19 epidemic, including wearing masks, keeping safe social distancing in Wuhan should be sustained.”

    Next, ‘misnomer’ means that it’s the wrong name, so what has the wrong name, asymptomatic spread? In any case, the article gives some good news about how asymptomatic individuals who were identified in Wuhan did not appear to be transmitting it, as their close contacts did not test positive. So once they had it under control, with no people falling sick for 2 months, they now know that if there are still some asymptomatic individuals left, they are not a concern anymore.

    None of this changes what we know about how the virus can actually make people sick, and why it is not a “highly survivable illness comparable to the flu” as written in another post by the same user.


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