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It's been clear for some time now that the Right really seems excited about the prospect of people spreading COVID-19 to make America great again, and that Fox News viewers are less likely to take the virus seriously. On top of all that, NBC News reports that the most fevered (as it were) advocates of coronavirus conspiracy theories are seriously bumming out medical workers who make the mistake of engaging with them. Fortunately, the docs featured in the report have had the good sense to quarantine themselves from the online spaces where the loonies are. But there also appears to be at least anecdotal evidence that the conspiracy mongers are having an effect on public health — not just in terms of pushing for states to lift safety measures too soon, but also because some folks aren't seeking care once they're sick. If that can be quantified, some smart grad student in a health field will have a hell of a dissertation topic.

The NBC News piece features a New York cardiologist, Dr. Hadi Halazun, who recalls coming home from a long shift at his hospital and encountering somebody on Facebook proclaiming that "no one's dying" and that the hospitals are actually empty.


Hadi tried to engage and explain his firsthand experience with the virus. In reply, another user insinuated that he wasn't a real doctor, saying pictures from his profile showing him at concerts and music festivals proved it.

"I told them: 'I am a real doctor. There are 200 people in my hospital's ICU,'" said Halazun [...] "And they said, 'Give me your credentials.' I engaged with them, and they kicked me off their wall."

"I left work and I felt so deflated. I let it get to me."

While much of the article focuses on what social media companies are trying to do — and failing to do — to combat disinformation about the pandemic, it also notes that some of the medical staff interviewed for the story said that "they regularly had to treat patients who had sought care too late because of conspiracy theories spread on social media," which doesn't seem surprising at all, given the regular stories about anti-science folks who've ended up getting sick or even dying from COVID-19.

And then there's the expert health advice being pushed by rightwing media, including Viewer Zero for all the nonsense on Fox News:

Dr. Duncan Maru, a physician and epidemiologist in Queens, New York, said he had heard from colleagues that a young patient had come into the emergency room last week with damage to his intestinal tract after having ingested bleach. The incident occurred just days after President Donald Trump suggested that "injection" of disinfectants should be researched as a potential coronavirus treatment.

"Folks delaying seeking care or, taking the most extreme case, somebody drinking bleach as a result of structural factors just underlines the fact that we have not protected the public from disinformation," Maru said.

Now, skeptics might grumble that "heard from colleagues" has a slight whiff of the old "friend of a friend" transmission of urban legends. But let's also recall that New York City's Poison Control Center saw a noticeable uptick in reports of people ingesting disinfectants following Trump's speculation, and that the same woo-promoting medical fraudsters spreading coronavirus conspiracy theories have long had a strange obsession with drinking diluted bleach. We're gonna call that plausible, at the very least.

The NBC piece also covers the fondness of conspiracy theorists for quack cures, and discusses how the rightwing mediasphere has built up a fact-free worldview that's nigh impermeable by those of us in the reality based community. Syracuse University communication professor Whitney Phillips explains it's getting harder and harder to get anywhere with medical facts, at least when people have found a paranoid ideological bubble to live inside:

With conspiracy theories, the reason they're impervious to fact-checking is that they have become a way of being in the world for believers. [...] It isn't just one narrative that you can debunk. It is a holistic way of being in the world that has been reinforced by all the other bullshit that these platforms have allowed people to consume for years.

We aren't just contending with an online environment where people reinforce each other's bullshit, but that bullshit is tainting real-world efforts to control a very real pandemic. A certain portion of the public is already planning to refuse any eventual coronavirus vaccine because they think Bill Gates wants to inject them with microchips. The "president" believes Fox News bullshit claiming infection and death rates are actually much lower than they really are. That is resulting in policies that will (not "may," but will) drive more infections, and more deaths. And now the True Believers are threatening public health offices and shooting up McDonalds because they're convinced it's time for everything to be "open" again.

Oh, hold on, were you waiting for a suggestion for how we get out of this mess? Best I can come up with is Vote The Bastards Out and Never Let Them Run Things Again, Also Use Antitrust To Break Up Facebook.

Otherwise, I'll be over here in a mask saying "Science is a good thing." Jesus.

[NBC News / Buzzfeed News / KMGH-TV / Business insider]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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