It is difficult to parse messages in the glut of media coverage regarding COVID-19. Myths abound. As a physician at Maine Medical Center, I have been caring for Maine’s COVID-19 patients for over six weeks. It has been a time of triumphs and also of sorrows for my colleagues, our patients and their families. COVID-19 is a serious illness. I’ve transferred a patient to the intensive care unit every day, oftentimes more. Many bravely have faced death with their loving families absent. Irresponsible messaging from our leaders in government and social media does a disservice to patients already affected and continues to put Mainers at risk.

Yes, most people do recover. Recovery, however, does not mean they get back the life they knew. The oldest patients are at high risk of dying this coming year, rendered ever more frail by 10- to 30-day hospital stays, followed by admission to nursing facilities. Younger patients, in their 20s and 30s, will likely deal with post-traumatic stress disorder from their ICU stays. Lungs recover in weeks. Souls, I understand, require more time.

The sorrows have been magnificent, but there is more to this crisis than those maimed or killed. Knowledge and myth creation both require our attention. In just 20 years, society has become accustomed to having more information than we could ever want, about anything, at any time. In 1980, the volume of medical knowledge was doubling every seven years; now it is doubling every 73 days. This frantic pace is fertile ground for misinterpretation and subsequent societal myths about modern medicine.

Examples of COVID myths include any assertion of a safe and effective treatment for the disease. As someone who organizes our hospital’s weekly educational session on COVID-19, and who is involved in clinical trials, I can say there is none. Peer-reviewed journals thus far contain case series, retrospective reviews and many anecdotal interventions. We have a handful of possible treatments, including antivirals, immune-modulators, convalescent plasma and high-dose micronutrients. We have no hard signal among the noise that anything works.

Please doubt any source who claims that a cure has been found. We have no cure for the common cold, much less this new, uncommon one.

I warn everyone away from those who call themselves “Doctor,” but either misappropriate the term (i.e., did not go to an accredited medical school) or no longer practice evidence-based medicine, using their titles to promote metaphysical ideas. Maine has a hardy crop. In the midst of a crisis, it is comforting to be around those who claim to know. Charlatans thrive in chaos.  Accept a little discomfort, some unknowing, and double check all the “facts” that such people espouse ad nauseam. As Winston Churchill said, “When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber.”

Other myths include that COVID is a geopolitical hoax or biological weapon. In either scenario, COVID-19 is a sloppy attempt. It discriminates along many lines: age, gender and ethnicity, but not against country. Our entire global population suffers this disease. The U.S. experience has been particularly acute because of the myriad ways it widens the chinks in our armor: our income inequality, wellness gaps, unlivable minimum wage, flagging safety net programs and the intersections across which these arteries run. The moral panic of “don’t tread on me” and “end my quarantine” should really be a panic regarding declining U.S. life expectancy and widespread financial debt.

The medical world – the entire world – has been momentarily humbled as we search for answers. This toil takes time. Leaders and influencers espousing rapid returns to safety or available treatments are lying, whether they know it or not. Pandemics like the Black Death lasted 15 to 30 years. This one will not be nearly that long, but patience is required, along with some Yankee stoicism and a well-informed democracy.

Teamwork, community involvement and Mainer grit have filled me to the point of tears often these past months. I am proud of my fellow Mainers for their discipline amid financial, physical and emotional hardship. I implore you: Find the primary source, remain calm, wash your hands and please, please vote for leaders who do the same.

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