U.S. declares public health emergency from coronavirus; misinformation about it is spreading faster than the disease itself

Trying to prevent spread of coronavirus, federal officials said Friday that the government would keep foreign nationals who recently visited China from entering the United States, and would quarantine some Americans returning from that country.

“Declaring a public health emergency over the coronavirus outbreak, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the president has imposed a temporary ban on entry for foreign nationals who have been to China in the last 14 days,” The Washington Post reports. “American citizens returning from mainland China would be subject to health screening and up to 14 days of quarantine.

Misinformation about the coronavirus is spreading more quickly than the disease itself, “testing Big Tech platforms’ ability to police rule-breaking content and China’s ability to control domestic criticism,” Sara Fischer and Ina Fried report for Axios.
Platforms such as FacebookTwitter and Google are trying to stop the spread of misinformation, including fake government warnings and false reports about how many Americans are infected. Some misinformation comes from private Facebook groups, The Washington Post reports.
China is also battling misinformation circulating on its social-media platform Weibo, but to complicate matters, the government is spreading misinformation of its own in an effort to allay people’s worries. “Chinese state media has tweeted photos purporting to show a new hospital, but which were actually stock images from a company that sells modular containers,” Axios reports.

“Health care has long been a target of misinformation, because it plays into existing fears. This is especially true for disease outbreaks, which can spread faster than the news cycle is equipped to handle,” Fischer and Fried write for Axios. Such misinformation can make outbreaks worse, because people may mistrust even accurate information about how to stop the spread of diseases.

“This is the latest lesson in why society needs information providers who practice a discipline of verification. In other words, journalists. And news outlets to pay them fairly and enforce standards,” says Al Cross, director of the University of Kentucky‘s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes Kentucky Health News. Here is reliable coronavirus information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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