Staff Editorial

'Infodemic' - inoculate yourself against misinformation about coronavirus

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Corona
This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). This virus was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP)

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, misinformation is spreading faster than the virus itself.

A World Health Organization brief published last month identified “infodemic” as “an overabundance of information — some accurate and some not — that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.”

COVID-19, also known as novel coronavirus, is a new pathogen, which makes it difficult for health professionals to accurately predict its spread and impact. Conditions will change quickly, and best practices differ based on location and individual health situations.

So, it’s impossible to prescribe one specific set of recommendations to keep people healthy. Instead, each of us must equip ourselves with the tools to stay updated as the situation evolves.

Last week, state officials announced they have identified multiple suspected COVID-19 cases in Iowa. That is cause for concern, but not a reason to panic.

Avoid taking advice from political pundits and social media posts lacking citations. As we have already seen, some people will try to capitalize on a public health threat to score political points or attract attention.

The best strategy is to get information directly from institutional sources such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United Nations’ World Health Organization. Both those organizations are publishing regular updates about COVID-19 with advice for prevention and treatment. The U.S. State Department has information about international travel.

CDC: COVID-19 summary

WHO: COVID-19 information

State Department: Travel advisories

In Iowa, look to the Iowa Department of Public Health and your county-level public health agency. Most local health organizations have websites and social media pages that Iowans should bookmark for future reference. Iowans also can call the state’s 24-hour hotline with public health questions by dialing 2-1-1 on the telephone.

IDPH: COVID-19 information

List of local public health agencies in Iowa

Iowa 211

News organizations are helping to disseminate accurate information about COVID-19, but it’s important for news consumers to be able to discern reputable sources from questionable ones. Federation of Library Associations has a helpful online guide entitled “How to spot fake news.”

Established local media outlets such as newspapers and broadcasters often are more reliable than online-only sources. The Gazette has a designated webpage for coronavirus coverage, and critical updates will be free for all users to read.

TheGazette.com/coronavirus

IFLA: How to spot fake news

Most importantly, take care to avoid contributing to the spread of misinformation. Either overstating or understating the potential risks of infection can have very real negative consequences on your neighbors and loved ones.

(319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.