'It's garbage': Infectious disease expert debunks 'Facts Not Fear' COVID-19 flyer
TORONTO -- Among the letters, bills and coupons in their mailboxes, some Ontario residents have found a flyer claiming to expose the truth of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Titled “Facts Not Fear,” the flyer is just more junk mail, says infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch.
“It’s garbage,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Friday.
But the challenge with some conspiracy theories is that there are often nuggets of accuracy hidden in the lies, he said.
“Unfortunately with misinformation, you put in some partial truths that give it a little bit of credibility.”
Here’s how Bogoch debunked five key points in the flyer, which CTV Your Morning co-host Ben Mulroney received in his Toronto mailbox.
OVER 99 PER CENT SURVIVE
While it’s true that the infection fatality rate, which includes unrecorded cases, is probably around 0.3 to 0.5 per cent, the flyer downplays a serious health crisis, said Bogoch.
“When you factor that [rate] in across 38 million Canadians, that’s over 150,000 dead Canadians. That’s unacceptably high,” he said. “We’re at 18,000 dead in Canada and that’s way too many. There’s more to this than surviving and dying.”
MOST INFECTED HAVE LITTLE OR NO SYMPTOMS
While it’s also true that many infected with COVID-19 exhibit very minor to mild symptoms, the flyer makes light of an incredibly infectious disease that has put a strain on Canadian health care.
“Our health care systems from coast to coast are stretched beyond capacity in many, many, many settings and it’s all related to COVID-19,” said Bogoch.
In the country's largest province, more than 500 critical care beds are being added to hospitals as Ontario ICUs near capacity. The strain has led to widespread cancellation of surgeries and other health care operations.
THE RELIABILITY OF PCR TESTS
The flyer claims that the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests for COVID-19 are “notoriously unreliable.” Not so, said Bogoch.
“The test itself, if it’s used appropriately, is like the mainstay,” he told Your Morning. “For non-COVID-19 infections, we use this test all the time as well. It has revolutionized medicine.”
While the tests are not completely foolproof, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) says false positive test results are "very rare." Last August, Public Health Ontario reported that it had found a false positive testing rate of less than 0.01 per cent.
LOCKDOWNS ARE HARMFUL
It’s true that there is a potentially “tremendous toll” associated with lockdowns and health, said Bogoch, but they aren’t always “unnecessary,” as the flyer claims. With good public health policy measures in place, they can be avoided, he added, but they are effective.
“There’s just a list longer than my arm of places that have done this successfully. It’s not ideal, but it actually works,” he said.
A multi-country analysis of the efficacy of lockdowns published in the journal Applied Health Economics and Health Policy found that "lockdown is effective in reducing the R0, i.e. the number of people infected by each infected person, and that, unlike what has been suggested in previous analyses, its efficacy continues to hold 20 days after the introduction of the policy."
FACE MASK EFFICACY
Face masks have been proven to help reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, particularly in indoor settings, said Bogoch. The flyer suggests they are unnecessary and unhealthy.
“It’s garbage. Face masks help,” he said. “Before COVID-19, people who worked in an operating room have been wearing face masks all day, most of the day, for a century now and they’re doing just fine.”
A wide array of research over the last year (and indeed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic) has emphasized the efficacy of face masks in preventing transmission of disease. Public health guidance, though initially confusing to many, has evolved to follow the science, officials say.
In an interview with CTV's Your Morning, Dr. Bogoch referred to the infection fatality rate for COVID-19 likely being around 0.3 to 0.5 per cent, a figure that is so low because it includes estimates for unrecorded cases of COVID-19. The case fatality rate is higher (about 2.5 per cent) because it includes only recorded cases.