How to flatten the curve on COVID-19 misinformation

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Part of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the almost constant flow of new information from new medical studies to potential cures published about COVID-19. But which ones are trustworthy and which ones are worth healthy skepticism?

Antonia Altomare, DO, MPH, Hospital Epidemiologist and Infectious Disease Physician at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon said since the crisis started she has been inundated with texts from friends and family members with questions about COVID-19, many based on something they read online.

“‘I saw this in the news what do you think about it?’” is what they often say, she said. “There’s a lot of stuff floating on social media. It’s hard to navigate.”

Altomare said the websites she trusts to have reputable information are the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) websites. Both sites are collecting and posting the most up-to-date, evidence-based scientific information about COVID-19, she said. From those websites you follow the links to the medical journals they are referencing, she said.

And in the evolving pandemic, she has also started going to the website for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy or CIDRP.

“They have all sorts of news and perspectives, cutting edge as of today,” she said.

“You can get email notifications daily with a collection of quick articles. … It’s pretty much like a condensed footnote version.”

And if it’s a story summarizing a new medical study it has a link she can click and read from the source medical journal.

For the layperson navigating the internet or searching for accurate public-friendly information about COVID-19, Altomare recommends state websites as easily digestible and reliably-sourced information. State websites are using information from the CDC and linking back to it, she said.

“The state health departments, from state to state, have really tried to maintain a public-friendly outlet for information,” she said. “Those are state-regulated sites that have almost always reputable links.”

Altomare cautions people about using Facebook posts as a source of information. Always click on the link to find out the source of the information before accepting it as truth. And ask yourself is this a reliable and reputable source for medical information, she said.

“You never know what’s a hoax and what’s real and sometimes a misinterpretation of what’s real. … I think it’s always good to question whether the source is reliable or not. Cause even on Facebook there could be a reliable story posted on it,” she said, adding it could be sourced by the CDC or a legitimate medical journal.

The CDC website is also a good source for both the medical professional and the general public, she said.

She also recommends hospital websites to the public since they keep up-to-date and accessible information. These websites, like Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s page, are continually taking-in, reviewing and posting patient-friendly information from reliable sources on relevant health topics for their communities such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

A complicating factor, particularly in New Hampshire, can be getting local information in languages other than English. Eva Castillo is the director of New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, which is part of the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition. She is also the director of the Endowment and NH Charitable Foundation-funded Welcoming New Hampshire.

Castillo says she works with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services to vet information of the COVID-19 pandemic for immigrants and refugees that may or may not understand English. 

“They vet the information then we post it, we have several Facebook pages welcoming refugees and immigrants to New Hampshire and we just post that information in there,” Castillo said. 

Normally, Castillo said, the organization would also go out into the communities to reach people directly with printed materials or by talking directly to people. This is not an option right now because of the Stay-at-Home order, she said.

“We just go and talk to people,” she said. “Usually with the immigrant communities we need to go to the organizations that serve them, if they are refugees, so we go to the bodegas, and the barbershops and we just go to the churches where they congregate and we give out info or talk to them.”

The Welcoming New Hampshire website, welcomingnh.org, also has a COVID-19 resource page that includes COVID-19 information in nine non-English languages — Spanish, French, Portuguese, Swahili, Kinyarwanda, Vietnamese, Chinese, Russian and Arabic

Other Websites Altomare recommends include:


These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org

 

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meghan-pierce

Meghan Pierce

Meghan Pierce is founder and editor of Monadnock Beat.