Wells: But in either case, there’s no financial incentive for hospitals to say that someone died of COVID-19 when they didn’t?
Hamblin: There is not a financial incentive. The CARES Act did give a little bit of money for hospitals that are being hard-hit by COVID-19, but it seems that in almost every case, these hospitals are struggling financially. It’s not enough for them to recover. And when you’re filling out a death certificate, when you’re making a diagnosis at an individual level as a doctor, there’s no financial incentive to lie. Even if you were that unscrupulous, there’s not a financial incentive to lie about death counts. That’s just an extremely cynical idea. And it just doesn’t accord with the fact that hospitals are struggling right now financially.
It’s the same theme that you see in a lot of concerns: fear that there’s a systematic profit motive to have people suffer, or to lie about the prevalence of a disease. That’s a constant trope in misinformation and myths. And there’s good reason to be skeptical of the medical establishment, but no. Health-care workers are suffering. Hospitals are suffering financially. No one is benefiting from this.
Wells: Another big area of misinformation is masks. In fairness, I was extremely confused about masks for the first couple of months because the guidance from official sources was in fact incorrect, so it’s not unreasonable for there to be confusion about masks. However, here’s an email from a listener named Alicia. She said that a mask requirement in her state had parents freaking out. She said there’s a lot of talk about pulling students because they don’t think their kid should wear a mask all day:
“They’re claiming there is no science that masks work and that they do more harm than good. One of the arguments being that people are ‘breathing their own CO2’ and that masks ‘can cause other lung issues.’ I’m able to find tons of evidence to refute what they say, but it feels futile because people are so set in this misinformation.”
Hamblin: Just in case anyone’s unclear: Masks are effective. They’re not perfectly effective. There are always going to be stories where someone was wearing a mask and got it nonetheless. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t effective. All these things are tools in a tool kit.
When someone comes to you, you can kind of break it down: Is this a genuine concern? Are they really afraid of wearing a mask? In which case, that deserves to be taken seriously. Or are they using this information to justify their belief that they just don’t want to wear a mask?
Wells: Can masks trap CO2 that you’re breathing out and make you breathe it back in in a bad way?
Hamblin: No, masks are not suffocating you.
Wells: Could there be bacteria or something that is getting caught in there?
Hamblin: If you’re sharing a mask and the person you’re sharing it with was sick, you could expect that you would get sick. But if it’s just your own exhalation, there’s not a problem. You eventually do want to clean it because you’ll have accumulations of whatever you might have been exposed to, but there’s no credible evidence that I’ve seen that anyone should be concerned about masks making you sick.