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Fact-checking coronavirus claims on severity, fatalities, hand sanitizers and more

Some posts on social media attempt to calm fears over COVID-19 with stats that show the danger is minimal to most people. We check the stats with a health expert.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The best prescription for fear is facts.  

Lots of statistics about the novel coronavirus are spreading throughout social media. Some are intended to incite panic. Others try to calm fears.

For a healthy dose of accurate information, WBIR 10News spoke to Charity Menefee, Director of Communicable and Environmental Disease and Emergency Preparedness (CEDEP) at the Knox County Health Department.

RELATED: Mar. 2, 2020 - Facts Not Fear | What you need to know about the COVID-19 outbreak

Below are a variety of claims from a post claiming people should not have undue worry about the coronavirus and her responses, current as of March 2, 2020:

Claim:  If you are not from China, this should remove 96% of your worry about the coronavirus.

Menefee: There are 87,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The vast majority of those are in China.  There are 91 cases in the United States and none in Tennessee. People should be paying attention to travel advisories on the CDC website.

Claim: 81 percent of the cases of coronavirus are mild.

Menefee:  About 80 percent of the infections are mild to moderate infections. So, that's really encouraging. These are cases where people do not require hospitalization. The symptoms for most people are fever, cough, shortness of breath.

Claim: The risk of death is very low if you are under the age of 50.

Menefee: The current data shows the age group with the highest risk is age 60 or older. In cases where people died, there is often an accompanying morbidity factor or underlying illness like heart disease, diabetes, lung problems, that kind of thing.

Claim: Coronavirus spreads on the surfaces of packaging from abroad.

Menefee: People are concerned about packages and things of that nature coming into the United States. While this virus can be found on surfaces, that's not thought to be the main way it is transmitted. It's really that direct person-to-person respiratory droplet contact that we're concerned about. This spreads very much like the flu.

Claim: Hand sanitizers are antibacterial and are not effective against viruses such as coronavirus.

Menefee: The CDC says hand sanitizer that is alcohol-based is effective against coronavirus. The best thing you can do is wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.  But if that's not available, hand sanitizer is still recommended.  We very much emphasize things like washing your hands, avoiding people who are sick, covering your cough if you are sick, and staying home from work if you have symptoms.

Credit: WBIR
The CDC says hand sanitizers that are alcohol-based are effective against coronavirus, but not as effective as washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

Claim: wearing a mask is an effective way to avoid contracting viruses

Menefee: Do not go out and buy a mask. They are most effective when worn by someone who is already sick. That is why doctors offices may ask you to put on a mask if you are ill.  But do not get a mask if you are healthy. 

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