Fear and Misinformation Spread Faster Than Coronavirus

There are zero confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New York, but misinformation and fears surrounding the disease are spreading much faster than the virus itself.

That was the message that State Assembly Members Ron Kim (D-Whitestone, Flushing, College Point, Murray Hill) and Andrew(D-Forest Hills, Rego Park, Richmond Hill, Glendale, Kew Gardens, Ridgewood, Middle Village), Asian community leaders and health officials gave to the Flushing community on Friday.

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has yet to reach New York City, but has already infected some 30,000 individuals worldwide and killed over 700. Public officials fear that misinformation being spread over social media about the virus has been causing panic in the city, and is creating a negative stigma around New York’s many Asian communities.

To address this spread of misinformation and its effects, Kim announced the formation of an Asian American Health Advisory Council that will focus on community health issues and concerns.

The newly formed council will meet once a month to expand community outreach and education efforts that will ensure all New York residents can learn to protect themselves during a crisis and not become victims of harassment and discrimination.

Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi talks about the coronavirus as Assemblyman Ron Kim and health officials look on. Photo by Owen Maldonado

“It is vital that we as New Yorkers prioritize facts and evidence-based reasoning over misinformation,” says Kim, who hopes that the formation of this council will help to address concerns about the coronavirus and similar public health issues in the future. 

Kim also announced legislation, backed by Hevesi, that would expand New York’s Natural Disaster Emergency Fund to include public health crises as an eligible disaster criteria. Expanding the fund would also allow vulnerable communities to access resources such as face masks and hand sanitizer in the case of a virus outbreak. 

Currently, communities facing a public health scare have to rely on contributions from donors and other generous individuals to keep safe during public health scares. Kim and Hevesi believe that the state should be offering these services to the public for free. 

Under the new legislation, the National Disaster Emergency fund would also be used to educate communities and aid the spread of accurate information across different languages.

“This is a dangerous time, but not because of the virus, it’s dangerous because of misinformation and hysteria,” says Hevesi. “We are going to have a response that is fact-based.”

Currently, health experts agree that the common cold and the flu pose a much higher risk to the public than the coronavirus. The influenza virus has killed over 10,000 people in America this year alone, while the coronavirus has only infected 12 people in the country and killed none.

Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, Deputy Commissioner at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is optimistic about New York’s ability to handle the looming threat of coronavirus. “New York has zero cases to date because we’re respecting the power of a new virus,” he says. “Simple things that you do to protect yourself during flu season are the things that should be doing now to protect yourself from coronavirus.”

Daskalakis recommends taking simple actions like frequently washing your hands, coughing into your sleeve, and staying at home if you feel sick to protect yourself and others from falling ill. 

“Viruses don’t respect borders,” says Daskalakis. “We shouldn’t focus on any specific community, we should be focusing on New York City and the way that we work together to address the many health threats that we have faced before. We need to address stigma and make it clear that it is inappropriate to target any specific group of people.” 

Medical professionals recommend anyone who might be experiencing flu-like symptoms, has come into contact with someone that has the coronavirus, or been to mainland China within the last two weeks to alert and seek help from their doctor. All others are encouraged to go about their daily lives as normal while taking simple precautions to protect themselves and others. 

More from Around New York