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VERIFY | Setting the record straight on common COVID-19 myths

ProMedica's Dr. Brian Kaminski explains why COVID is different from and deadlier than the flu and talks survival rates, vaccine fears and hospital capacity.

TOLEDO, Ohio — During nine months of reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic, I have repeatedly encountered common myths that have been widely circulated online.

It's not just my responsibility to provide daily numbers. I also want to educate people about the virus. To debunk many of the myths that have gained traction during the past several months, I interviewed Dr. Brian Kaminski. He is an emergency physician and the Medical Director of ProMedica's Flower Hospital.

If you have questions about aspects of the coronavirus pandemic that you want answers to, text us at 419-248-1100 and please include your first name and hometown along with your question or concern. 

Here are 16 myths and questions addressed and answered and you can watch the entire interview here: 

 

1. COVID is no worse than the flu

When you look at the data and the evidence, it's absolutely not true. The virus is far deadlier than the flu. Each year we lose about 30,000 people from the flu. As you know, (since it's been) highly publicized, but (in the) months been dealing with COVID, it's close to 300,000. This is much different virus, far deadlier, definitely not comparable to the flu virus."

2. Flu has disappeared because flu is being classified as COVID

"Every year we have a flu season. We had one last year and had COVID. There are people who suffered from the flu and COVID as well. And sometimes (it) happens at same time. We have separate tests that we can conduct for COVID and for the flu. They are two entirely distinctive viruses. We have tests for each one of them. We have not seen a robust flu season yet, meaning we have not seen a lot of patients testing positive for influenza, but we know the flu season can start anywhere between October and March. Sometimes we have an earlier flu season, sometimes we have a later flu season. The good news is that all the masking and all the precautionary measures taking work for COVID and also for the flu because they are transferred largely the same way."

RELATED: VERIFY: Yes, COVID-19 has killed more Americans in 8 months than the flu in 5 years

3. Doctors are classifying all deaths as COVID because hospitals profit off COVID deaths.

"Health care providers, hospitals, as well as physicians, we're tied to an oath so when we see and diagnose people, it's based on what they presented with. Now that we have robust testing for COVID, we are able to order tests and determine that it is COVID. There was a CARES Act where hospitals, like other businesses, were able to receive dollars from the federal government related to hardship that the pandemic has caused. and I think that myth may have come from some of the CARES Act dollars hospitals receive, but it has nothing to do with making a diagnosis, has nothing to do with patients who have it or don't have the disease. We look to make that diagnosis based on presenting symptoms, diagnostic testing, and COVID testing."

RELATED: VERIFY: Are hospitals paid more for treating coronavirus patients?

4. 99 percent of people who get COVID survive. It's no big deal.

"We have to look at what 99 percent looks like. We know there are 350 million people in this country. If we accept that 1 percent is OK, then 3.5 million people would die from COVID. I think we can all look at that and say that's not acceptable at all. We put a lot of effort and resources into things that are far less deadly than that, things like airplane crashes, automobile accidents (and) deaths that result from those. One percent sounds small on the surface, but when you dig deeper, you see what a deeper impact 1 percent actually has. One percent death rate is very significant. And I'm guessing we all know 100 people out there and don't want to know somebody who was affected by COVID."

RELATED: VERIFY: Twitter posts not depicting accurate COVID-19 survival rates

5. Looking at CDC data, the number of deaths is lower this year than other years

"We know factually that death rates overall have gone up and are largely attributable to the pandemic. In fact, in some states, in some age groups, COVID is the leading cause of death right now. It's something we really shouldn't take lightly when we hear facts like that. Death rates overall have gone up. In fact, in certain groups, it's the number one cause of death."

6. It only really affects old people. Young people aren't being hospitalized or dying.

"The truth is that you really don't know how COVID is going to affect you if you've never had it or contracted it. We have examples from every single age group in the state of Ohio. We've had deaths less than one year of age all the way up to 109 years of age and everything in between. So although we know that certain groups, including elderly people, are at higher risk for contracting severe disease, that can happen and does happen for people without risk, without age risk. It has nothing to do with contracting and getting the disease, so although certain age groups are affected disproportionally, it doesn't mean you can't transmit or get the virus or be that unlucky person and suffer severe disease even if you don't have much risk."

7. I know someone who tested positive for the disease and they have been tested multiple times and those count multiple times for the state's numbers.

"(I) can speak for Ohio. Most states count the individual, not the positive tests. Those aren't duplicated or artificially inflated numbers."

8. The only reason we are seeing more cases is because we are doing far more testing than in the spring.

"The truth is that we are doing more testing, so if you do more testing of a population in a pandemic, you are bound to find more illness, but it doesn't mean those illnesses aren't real and those people aren't either suffering or transmitting the disease to people who are at risk. So although we are seeing numbers go up, those are real cases of real individuals and it's a signal or beacon to tell us the amount of disease that is out there. And by most estimates, the prevalence of disease is far higher than the testing that we are doing because we know people get sick and we know they don't get tested. Those people are in our population and they affect the prevalence and spread of the disease. So depending on what study you look at, you see that it's actually 5 to 8 times the actual disease prevalence."

RELATED: VERIFY: COVID-19 misinformation claims on social media

9. Masks are overrated. There's no evidence that they work.

"It's probably our best line of defense right now. We know in laboratories - and we observe settings where people where masks and where people don't wear masks - we know repeatedly through observational studies and laboratory conducted studies that the likelihood of transmission goes down considerably when individuals wear masks in communities where they interact with other people." 

RELATED: VERIFY: Face mask facts vs. falsehoods

10. Masks can be dangerous because they lower oxygen levels and increase carbon dioxide levels.

"There is no significant evidence that any of the available masks out there impair individuals to exchange oxygen. (Wearers) maintain normal oxygen saturation. There really isn't enough space in front of the mask for carbon dioxide to accumulate in that area. There is enough airflow in most cloth masks and paper masks you see out there that we might purchase at a retail outlet. They allow for enough oxygen exchange that lower levels of oxygen in the body are not occurring." 

11. There are actually plenty of hospital beds available. On the dashboard, it says there are 25 percent. 

"Percentages are a difficult way to judge hospital capacity because having a physical bed is one thing, but having a physical bed that's operational with staff members and adequate resources to provide the care that's needed to the individual sitting in that space is an entirely different thing. And if you talk to individual hospitals in the area or outside the area or even across the country, what you will find is most hospitals right now are operating at or near capacity on a day to day basis and that's something that can change hourly. Most hospitals in our area are either at or just above usual capacity."

CLICK | Ohio Coronavirus Dashboard

12. This whole pandemic has been overblown and we are doing more harm by locking people down.

"I hope people don't view it as overblown, based on the impact that it's had. If you talk to individuals either personally or directly affected or have friends or family members who have been affected, I think you'll hear that described another way because the impact is real. The amount of death and disability it has caused already and we haven't gotten through all the holiday weekends yet ..."

13. I don't trust the vaccine. The vaccine will give me the virus

"The first two vaccines coming to market right now as most people know are the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine. Neither one of those vaccines actually have any virus in them. They only have the genetic code for the protein on the surface of the virus. So it's a very small portion of the genetic code. There is no live or deactivated virus in the vaccine. It's simply code that is absorbed by your body and generates a response so your body produces an immune response so that you are ready to fight the virus when you are actually exposed to it."

14. I've already had COVID. I can't get it again.

"We know that isn't true. We know people have gotten COVID more than once. Fortunately, it's an uncommon occurrence and we don't see that in most cases, but again, only nine months into this pandemic. We don't know people that have immunity, how long that immunity is going to last so it could be a year, longer than that. We have observed in some individuals who have had COVID had a second time. Uncommon but it's a possibility."

15. If we just let everyone get COVID, we will have herd immunity.

"Herd immunity is a real concept that can be achieved either by letting the disease spread naturally or achieving herd immunity through vaccination, which is the better option. Herd immunity is a phenomenon that happens (when) enough individuals in the community get the virus, thereby reducing the number of contact points for the virus to jump from person to person. and That causes the virus to eventually fade away and it protects the large group and the vulnerable population because enough people have had it. 

"To a large degree we need 70 percent or more of the population to acquire immunity through vaccination or immunity through contracting the illness to achieve herd immunity. We are nowhere close to that in terms of the number of people who have actually had COVID. So despite the number of people who have had COVID and the amount of deaths we have had from COVID, there are still hundreds of millions of people in America who have still not had this disease or been exposed to it. 

"The amount of suffering and death that would occur between now and when we reached herd immunity through natural disease spread is something that most of us would not be willing to tolerate or would want to tolerate. A better way to achieve herd immunity is through vaccination, which is just weeks away."

RELATED: VERIFY: Herd immunity is not a strategy to deal with a pandemic. It is a concept

16. The hospitalization numbers are high because there are people in the hospital with COVID, not because of COVID.

"People who are hospitalized with COVID are hospitalized because they are ill. Most people might be surprised to know that the majority of (COVID) patients who come into our emergency rooms and physicians' offices, they are sent home to recover, because most people can recover effectively at home. So the hospital spaces are reserved for those people who have more severe illness, (such as) people with decreased oxygen levels or more critical complications related to the complications associated with COVID. So we would not give our hospital beds to people who have COVID just incidentally and are not sick with COVID."