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Politifact Virginia: Separating Coronavirus Rumor from Fact

man in lab clothes sitting at table with vials
Social distancing can mean more time spent on social media - but misinformation about coronavirus can pose its own dangers. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

VPM's Craig Carper and Warren Fiske separate coronavirus fact from fiction.

CRAIG: Warren, I understand we’re going to be running through some claims about the coronavirus that have been posted on Facebook. What have you got in mind?

WARREN: With COVID-19 seeming to affect every step of our lives, it’s important that we act on good information.

I don’t know about you Craig, but with social distancing these days, I find myself spending more time at home on social media - which, if you’re not careful, can be a source of bad information.

PolitiFact is in a group of independent fact-checking organizations around the world that help Facebook verify whether certain posts are true. 

For the last month or so, most of these Facebook fact checks have been on COVID-19.  I thought I’d share some of the findings of my PolitiFact National colleagues.

CRAIG: OK. The first one is on claims that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that the virus can survive on surfaces for 17 days. 

WARREN: That’s False. There’s no evidence the virus lives on surfaces that long, and the CDC never made such a statement.

This spread from a since-corrected CNBC headline saying the coronavirus survived in cruise ship cabins for up to 17 days.

CDC research on a cruise ship found traces of the coronavirus on some of the ship’s surfaces 17 days after passengers left. But traces are not the same thing as live viruses. 

CRAIG: How long does the virus live on surfaces?

WARREN: It’s a matter of continuing research.

The New England Journal of Medicine has published some preliminary research suggesting it can live up to three hours in the air, four hours on copper, 24 hours on cardboard, and three days on plastic and stainless steel.

So keep washing your hands and disinfecting your surfaces.

CRAIG: For sure. OK, here’s another Facebook post: That you can leave objects in the sun to avoid getting the coronavirus. 

WARREN: If only...This has spread as advice on how to make sure deliveries aren’t infected.

Unfortunately, there’s no evidence sun exposure kills COVID-19. And there are a number of experts who are sure it doesn't. So PolitiFact has rated this False.

The CDC doesn’t give any advice on disinfecting packages.  But again, its general advice is wash your hands.

CRAIG: Alright. The last one we’ll get to is a Facebook post that Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, “told us about coronavirus in 2015.” 

WARREN: Well, Gates did offer a warning back then that seems prescient.

It came during a talk he gave after Ebola ravaged West Africa in 2014. 

About 10,000 people died and the reason there weren’t more, Gates said, is because  the virus didn’t spread through air.

People were already sick with Ebola when they became contagious.

Gates said it was only a matter of time before there’d be a more devastating virus that was spreadable through air and could be transmitted by people who weren’t showing symptoms.

He warned that the U.S. wasn’t prepared for such an outbreak.

Now, Gates never mentioned coronavirus, but he did describe the kind of pandemic we’re facing today .

And PolitiFact rated the Facebook post Mostly True.