The Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org has debunked a series of myths about the coronavirus to combat misinformation about the disease, Annenberg News reported.
Viral posts on social media sites including Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit have spread misinformation about the coronavirus. FactCheck.org has been working to correct conspiracy theories about the disease's origins and the death toll, Annenberg News reported.
One widely spread Facebook post that Annenberg has debunked claims that researchers have already developed a vaccine for the coronavirus. Although a vaccine has not yet been developed, the Wistar Institute has joined the global effort to create a vaccine for the virus.
Chinese scientists have shared the sequence of the coronavirus, allowing researchers including those at the Wistar Institute to know which protein codes to replace in a potential vaccine. Penn Medicine professor Ebbing Lautenbach said a vaccine is unlikely to be available before the beginning of summer.
Several false social media posts accused the Chinese government of censoring the real number of deaths, claiming that up to 10,000 deaths had gone unreported. FactCheck.org debunked these falsehoods on Jan. 27. Only 81 deaths had been confirmed at the time that FactCheck.org published the article.
Conspiracy theories have also spread on Facebook about the origin of the disease, pointing to an unverified scientific paper that claims to have evidence that the coronavirus was man-made. The theory asserts a connection between the novel coronavirus and Human Immunodeficiency Virus.
InfoWars host Alex Jones has spread the conspiracy theory that the Chinese government developed the virus as a genetic weapon. FactCheck.org published a rebuttal and spoke to expert biologists and virologists, who confirmed that the virus’ sequence shows no signs of human tampering. The virus is believed to have been transmitted to humans from an animal, which leading virologists currently believe is a bat, FactCheck.org reported.
The coronavirus has caused 908 deaths in China and 40,171 total cases have been confirmed, according to The New York Times.
Penn initially informed students in an email on Jan. 24 that Student Health Services and Campus Health were monitoring the situation, and communicating with Chinese international students and students studying abroad or planning on studying abroad in China.
On Jan. 29, Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé announced that students will be barred from studying abroad in China this semester, although the virus poses a low risk to the Penn community. He added that other students studying abroad in Southeast Asia have elected to return to Penn.
Last week, Penn recommended that all students, faculty, and staff returning from mainland China self-isolate for 14 days upon returning to the United States. The recommendation came after the Pennsylvania Department of Health issued a similar guidance.
No cases of coronavirus have been reported in Philadelphia or at Penn. On Jan. 28, a student at William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia tested negative for the disease after being suspected of having the virus.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Penn Wharton China Center in Beijing will remain closed until Feb. 10.
A Penn student, College sophomore Zhexuan Huang, is currently stranded in Wuhan, China after the city was placed on lockdown by the Chinese government. Waiting on a visa and unable to leave Wuhan, Huang cannot return to Penn this semester.
FactCheck.org’s debunking was cited in stories in Vox, USA Today, and NBC Universal.