COVID-19: reality or over-exaggeration?

It seems as though most people want to know what is happening where they live concerning COVID-19.

In times like these, the media plays a major role in keeping citizens informed.  However, some people, often ones who believe in irrational conspiracy theories, claim the media is exaggerating to scare the public. Others take advantage of this time of crisis to share false information and create more panic.

Journalists have been, and always will be, judged no matter what they do. If they report on COVID-19, they’re only making things worse and contributing to the panic. But if they don’t, they’re hiding something.

A journalist’s main purpose is to share the truth. And while some people might argue that what the media is saying is false, I would say that as long as they have enough proof to back up their claims, it’s the truth—at least for now. For example, there have been claims that COVID-19 was designed in either the United States or in China. There is no proof verifying the claims. We should only be trusting fact-checked information.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier François Legault hold daily press conferences to keep the public up to date on the COVID-19 situation, both in terms of its spread and in terms of measures to slow it. In my opinion, if they are doing this it’s because this is what citizens want. Besides, even if you don’t want to trust the media, don’t you think you should at least trust your government?

This is a rhetorical question, as I know some would say no.

Take my father as an example. My whole life, I have never seen him watch Canadian news as much as he does now. Every day, he turns on the TV and watches Trudeau and Legault live, then watches Radio-Canada in the evening, because he wants to know how the situation is evolving. It’s during these times of crisis that people need the media the most.

A Concordia University student, Hershey Blackman, created a public Facebook group called MTL Coronavirus on March 13, the day Legault announced that schools, CEGEPs and universities would be closing for at least two weeks.

Blackman explained that he thought it was important for people to have a place to “connect with each other,” and share information about the coronavirus, their feelings, as well as memes, to stay entertained. Every day, there are around 50 new posts, which shows that people on social media want to talk about the virus, whether it’s by discussing their concerns or posting funny memes.

This is another reason why we absolutely need to be careful with the information we see and share. Most people want to know what’s happening, and some are even willing to click on any link including the word “coronavirus” and share it. Always check the source’s credibility.

There have been many cases of false information circulating in reference to the virus—such as a French man who posted a 25-minute video explaining how he thinks COVID-19 was created back in 2004. Radio-Canada confirmed that what he published was false information.

A family doctor from New York City, Mikhail Varshavski, discussed on his YouTube channel how some news outlets and television networks are presenting facts in a manner that scares people. For example, National Geographic published an article titled “Here’s what coronavirus does to the body,” in which, as Varshavski noted, the writer tends to use scary sentences followed by more rationalized explanations.

For this reason, I think people should trust the media, as journalists continue to work hard to report on the situation. Some people will listen and some won’t, it’s that simple. Just like some people have been taking all the possible precautions, staying in quarantine and respecting social distancing, while others are still gathering in groups and leaving their homes unnecessarily.

I think the Montreal Gazette has been doing a very good job of presenting unbiased facts without inflicting anxiety and panic.

While it is a time of fear and anxiety, we must stay cautious about where we get information from. So in the meantime, stay home if you can, FaceTime your friends and family and get your news from credible sources.



Simply Scientific: Can you get sick from being cold?

You’ve probably heard it before: Don’t go outside without a scarf, you’ll get sick! Make sure you wear thick socks and gloves, you get sick from the extremities! 

We’ve all heard that being cold makes you sick. But is that true?

The short answer is no. When you get sick, it’s because you caught a virus or bacteria.

Basically, a cold is an upper respiratory tract infection. The most common culprit for this infection is the rhinovirus, a common virus that replicates quickly in the nose and then goes down to infect your throat. This makes you cough, and can sometimes lead to ear and sinus infections. You may also get a fever and fatigue as your body fights against the virus.

This “common cold” virus is quite easy to catch. Unlike many bacteria and viruses that are only transmissible in certain ways—think about how HIV can only be transferred through bodily fluids—rhinoviruses are airborne.

This means they can spread through droplets in the air—like when someone coughs or sneezes—and enter through your mouth, eyes, or nose.

It can also spread through hand-to-hand contact; for example, if you shake hands with someone infected who coughed into their hand and then you touch your eyes, you’re likely to catch the virus.

In short, to catch a cold, you need to be exposed to someone else who has a cold. No virus, no illness.

So why do people think you’ll get sick if you are cold?

The answer lies in the effect that cold temperatures have on viruses, human bodies, and our behaviour.

Being cold weakens your immune system, making it harder for your body to resist infection when you are exposed to viruses.

It has also been shown that rhinoviruses replicate faster when it’s cold, making it more likely that you will be exposed to it.

In addition, when it’s cold outside, you’re probably going to spend more time indoors, surrounded by other people who may be sick.

Indoor humidity also plays a role in getting sick: when it’s humid, viruses can attach to water droplets; since heaters dry out the air, the virus is more prone to infect you instead. Heaters also dry out your sinuses, and a lack of nasal mucus makes it harder for your immune system to fight off infection.

Overall, the combination of low humidity and low temperature makes viruses last longer and your immune system weaker, both of which together may get you sick.

So, can you get sick from being cold?

The long answer is yes, but only because cold and dry environments increase the likelihood of you catching whatever virus or bacteria you’re exposed to.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


Breaking down the coronavirus

The spread of a human coronavirus, which started in China, has prompted universal fear in the span of weeks.

While there is still a lot of uncertainty about the virus, it was declared a global health emergency on Jan. 30 by the World Health Organization (WHO). Panic has settled in as the death toll continues to climb, with 300 so far and more than 14,000 confirmed cases in primarily Asian countries, according to the New York Times.

The coronavirus originated in Wuhan, which is one of China’s main transportation hubs. It is home to over 11 million people, making it a difficult place to contain an outbreak. Amid the circumstances, many international airlines such as KLM, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Air Canada suspended their flights to China, prolonging the process for nationals seeking a way home.

Given that this is a respiratory virus, MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis experts advise those who are in the vicinity of the virus to practice flu-prevention methods, such as washing your hands frequently and staying home from school or work if you’re sick.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of the coronavirus include runny nose, headache, cough, fever, and a sore throat. Human coronaviruses can also trigger respiratory illness causing pneumonia for those infected. For this reason, people are being warned to be wary of flu-like symptoms, much like the common cold.

People have demonstrated a great deal of concern given that the virus is highly contagious. According to an early SSRN study, an infected person could transmit the disease from 2.0 to 3.1 people, if the necessary preventative measures aren’t taken seriously.

The virus has been compared to SARS, another form of coronavirus that killed 774 people in China back in 2003. The coronavirus can travel through the air, increasing the risk of contamination when a sick person breathes, coughs, sneezes or talks. Although the statistics of the virus raise concern for people worldwide, there are ways to reduce transmission numbers. This is done by using effective public health measures such as keeping those who are sick isolated while monitoring people who might have been in contact with them.

As of Jan. 31, there are four confirmed cases in Canada as reported by Global News: two in Toronto, one in London, Ontario and one in Vancouver. In Ottawa, fears surrounding the spread of the virus happened to coincide with the Chinese Lunar New Year. This led to the cancellation of several Lunar New Year events, despite the fact that there are no confirmed cases in Ottawa.

With the virus having made its way to Canada, the National Post reports that the Chinese-Canadian community is facing discrimination in light of these events. The article also recalls the role media played in propagating misinformation and hurtful stigma against the Chinese Canadian community. On Feb. 1, at a Lunar New Year celebration in Scarborough, Ontario, Justin Trudeau called for all Canadians to stay united against discrimination.

The outbreak has sparked a shared sense of fear in various countries where the coronavirus is present. This became evident when a cruise ship in Italy containing 6,000 tourists was placed in total lockdown, according to The BBC. The two passengers suspected of being contaminated remained in isolation units until deemed safe.

As for the Concordia community, Concordia International has stated that they currently do not have any students abroad in China. University spokesperson Vannina Maestracci explains the University’s approach to keeping the situation under control for students who are worried about the outbreak.

“The University is taking its guidance from public health agencies at the local, provincial and federal levels, who are closely monitoring the outbreak, and providing public health and infection control guidance,” said Maestracci. “Canadian public health authorities advise that the overall risk to Canadians remains low.”

She confirmed that the University has communicated with “students, staff and faculty on the risk, symptoms and best behaviours for flu-like symptoms such as handwashing.”

Maestracci also made a comment pertaining to discrimination on campus geared at Chinese students, saying “our Code of Rights and Responsibilities, which governs the entire Concordia community has, as its grounding principles, the values of civility, equity, respect, non-discrimination and an appreciation of diversity as manifested within Concordia University and within society.”


Graphic by @sundaeghost

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