OP-ED | As COVID-19 Intensifies, So Do Conspiracy Theories and Disinformation
Well, it never really left, but it has gained considerable traction, thanks to the emerging flu season, declining immunity and mounting cases in nearby states — all exacerbated by the Delta variant.
“Connecticut’s COVID-19 positivity rate Thursday [was] 6.48% and the governor’s office said there have been an additional 37 COVID-19 related deaths since [the prior week],” reported NBC Connecticut.
Predictably, the bogus information surrounding the virus has also intensified — a fact I noticed on my own social media page.
Shortly after the first case involving the new Omicron variant was detected in the United States, I read this comment (which I’ve graciously abridged) from a Facebooker who is, shall we say, skeptical:
“Do you have to be a moron not to see that this is all about control. [sic] Omicron Was [sic] conjured up to be able to further isolate and scapegoat the unvaccinated and to blame all the fake vaccine deaths and injuries on this variant.”
While at first oblivious, I eventually caught on to the reference to “omicron” as an anagram of “moronic” and, thus, the latest ruse allegedly perpetuated by the U.S. government, or the pharmaceutical industry, or the dastardly Dr. Anthony Fauci or somebody. As it turns out, rather than an elaborate government conspiracy, the omicron/moronic connection is actually the latest example of COVID disinformation.
“It’s true that ‘omicron’ and ‘moronic’ are anagrams,” explained PolitiFact. “Those are words or phrases made by rearranging letters in another word or phrase, per Merriam Webster’s definition. But there is no secret message there, just as there wasn’t when we fact-checked a claim that the ‘delta’ in the Delta variant means ‘deep sleep.’”
“It’s called omicron, following a decision that the World Health Organization announced in May to assign letters of the Greek alphabet to key variants,” added PolitiFact.
But forget about convincing any “COVID deniers” of this reality. They’ll have none of it and will instead bellow their battle cry that “the media” is assisting the government in terrifying people with wild reports of every new COVID variant.
“Making it sound like it’s the apocalypse, when it isn’t, is something that needs to be addressed,” wrote my COVID skeptic. “The dangerous variant was just announced on the news as a threat. In reality, it’s mild and pretty much not dangerous at all. There needs to be consequences when things that aren’t accurate are reported.”
Sadly, my personal Facebook adventures are not unique. It’s virtually impossible for anyone to avoid social media COVID denialism in one form or another. Consider how findings of a just-released scientific study in Australia “confirm that the recent growth in conspiracy theory beliefs, particularly those centered on potential vaccine harm, pose a substantial threat to the large-scale uptake of COVID-19 vaccines, and thus the achievement of herd immunity to COVID-19.”
Consequently, conspiracy theorists and disbelievers, so devout in their own convictions, have become easy prey for the opportunists of the digital world. The lies and doubts these predators spread are so effective, it seems, that denialism is not just prevalent – it has become downright bizarre.
Just last week, a woman used her time during the public comments portion of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors meeting to don a Santa cap and sing a modified version of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” to highlight her anti-mask, anti-vaccine, anti-science position: “I just want my freedom now. The Constitution will show us how. Make my dreams come true. Baby, end the emergency. Let’s have a happy holiday, everybody.”
This would all be hilarious if it weren’t so dangerous:
- UMass Memorial Medical Center in central Massachusetts – “completely overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients” – was running at 120% capacity last week, as all 450 beds were full and 75 patients in the ER were awaiting beds. Between 60% and 75% of those patients were unvaccinated.
- New York is a tale of two states. New York City hospitals have seen COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 people increase from 0.5 on Nov. 10 to 1.1 by Dec. 7, while similar rates for hospitals upstate – an area with lower vaccination rates – rose from 2.9 to 4.9. Said David Larsen, an associate professor of public health at Syracuse University: “At the end of the day, you’re more likely to get severe COVID-19 symptoms and go to the hospital if you’re not vaccinated.”
- Connecticut’s COVID-related hospitalizations have increased markedly, as we know, and 77.4% of those patients are either unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, according to Dr. Stephanie Paulmeno, Public Health Education Specialist at the Greenwich Department of Health.
In the end, the deniers can deny all they want, but COVID-19 remains a deadly virus, especially for the unvaccinated. And bogus information in the form of conspiracy theories, disinformation, and misinformation make COVID-19 even deadlier. Those are the simple facts.
Barth Keck is in his 31st year as an English teacher and his 16th year as assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School in Higganum where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language and Composition. Follow Barth on Twitter @keckb33 or email him at email@example.com.
The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com or Regional School District 17.