Lena Mitchell


What will it take for people who call the COVID-19 pandemic a “hoax” to believe in its reality?

Are COVID-19 doubters the same individuals who have become victims of a scam whereby they paid $50 to buy a “Face Mask Exemption Card?” The bogus cards claim validity under a non-existent “Freedom to Breathe Act,” and contain the message, “I am exempt from any ordinance requiring face mask usage in public.”

The Better Business Bureau and federal consumer protection agencies warned last week that the scammers perpetrating this scheme were stealing people’s identities, and not simply raking in $50 a pop for the fake cards.

So far the coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 128,000 people in the United States and infected more than 3.35 million, among them more than 36,500 infections and 1,250 deaths in Mississippi.

Nevertheless, people continue to resist calls to wear masks in public.

Where would we be if the public messaging from the start on COVID-19 had been that we were going to be in a national lock-down for at least three months and wearing masks until there is a vaccine?

If it is possible for pandemic-doubting, non-mask-wearing people to still be swayed by accurate information, here are some suggestions from the AARP on how to choose trustworthy news sources:

• Know the reliability of the organization and website you are using. Politifact, the website that checks the legitimacy of information and gives it a “true” or “false” designation, recommends that you examine whether the source of the information provides research-based evidence of its statements. Do not share information on your social media until you have confirmed that it is true.

• Read beyond the headlines. If you have ever looked at the headlines on tabloid magazine stories in checkout lanes at retailers and then read the article’s content, you know that the headline often distorts the truth, if there is any truth in it at all.

• As federal investigative agencies found, there are organizations and individuals that have developed sophisticated misinformation campaigns to spread false information on social media. Companies like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram use a blue check mark to identify information they have verified as legitimate, so look for the blue check on information you consume.

• Misspellings and names of false agencies, as noted in the account of the “Freedom to Breathe Act” scam earlier in this column, are commonplace in false articles and stories, whereas reputable sites try to carefully edit their information. Reliable fact-checking news services like snopes.com can help you weed out these kinds of scams.

• Accurate information is seldom reported in only one place, so check more than one dependable news source to get wider coverage of an issue.

As our nation navigates its way through the coming weeks and months coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, it will require effort on everyone’s part.

Remember, if there was not a single additional case of COVID-19 diagnosed after today, the hundreds and thousands of infections already at play will take weeks and months to resolve.

The nation is experiencing serious pain and disruption, and ignoring it or wishing it away won’t make it go away.

LENA MITCHELL is a retired Daily Journal reporter who continues to write a regular column. Contact her at lena.mitchell.dj@gmail.com.

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