Get coronavirus information from credible sources: public health officials

TORONTO — Even before Canada’s first coronavirus case was announced in Toronto over the weekend, Canada’s medical community was on alert — and not just for the disease.

Public health officials said they were keeping an eye on social media because misinformation has become a threat against illness prevention and they were cognizant of the impact it could have on addressing the respiratory illness that has sickened at least 2,000 people and killed dozens of others.

“In health care, in general right now, we are struggling a little bit to combat misinformation about health care from social media and from all fronts and I don’t suspect this will be any different,” said Dr. Sohail Gandhi, president of the Ontario Medical Association.

“We have a media staff that are actively monitoring different emerging trends…If they feel there is too much misinformation particularly on one matter, we will speak out against that.”

The information monitoring by the OMA and other organizations during an outbreak is a relatively recent development. After all, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat were still years away from being founded when in 2002, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) rattled southern China, infected more than 8,000 people and killed nearly 800, including 44 Canadians.

In the age of coronavirus, however, there is a plethora of places for Canadians to get their news — and not all are credible or being vetted by medical experts. A tweet or snap can easily convince someone to disregard proper hygiene or even create fearmongering about the risk of contracting an illness.

“People may actually take the wrong course of action and engage in what they believe are protective measures that are in fact not warranted and in some cases may be harmful,” said Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health.

Coronavirus misinformation, she said, is especially important to watch out for because our understanding of the illness is only just developing.

Doctors and researchers are still looking into the coronavirus’s origins, how it reached humans, is transferred and what can be done to eradicate it.

“Those are the kinds of areas where there’s some uncertainty and I think when there is some uncertainty, there is often fear and anxiety associated with that,” she said. ”That’s where you see some misinformation.”

To combat the spread of misinformation, the federal government is keeping in touch with ethnic media and trying to be as transparent as possible with updates on the illness, said federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu at an Ottawa news conference on Sunday, where she revealed more coronavirus cases are expected in Canada, but cautioned the risk to the public is low.

“Misinformation is difficult to combat online,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that misinformation is creating a perception for Canadians that belies the reality that the risk remains low.”

Meanwhile, Toronto Public Health had set up a coronavirus webpage with information on symptoms, risk level updates, treatment information and federal and provincial resources.

De Villa said that adds to the organization’s constant practice of watching for health misinformation on social media.

“Fundamentally as public health officials, this is our purpose and our goal,” she said. ”It is our objective to ensure the people we ensure are given evidence-based, credible information, so they know what is happening and what to do in order to protect their own health.”

De Villa and Gandhi urged Canadians trying to verify what they may see online about coronavirus to pay attention to official health sources, including Toronto Public Health, the World Health Organization, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Health.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2020.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ecologist Tony Blake was among several dozen area residents who participated in Tuesday’s public hearing on the future Molly Banister Drive extension. Blake argued for preserving trail connectedness and the wildlife corridor. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Molly Banister road extension stays

A nearly nine-hour public hearing ends with a 5-3 vote for keeping the road alignment

A server wears a mask at a restaurant, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Health officials receive thousands of COVID-related complaints

About 800 to 1,000 people call health officials weekly

Shaun Janse van Rensburg, a Red Deer resident, said he is tired of changing clocks twice a year. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff
After COVID, Kenney may consider referendum on daylight savings

Albertans may be divided on several issues today, but there’s a consensus… Continue reading

The COVID-19 death toll in Alberta reached 309, according to numbers posted on the province’s website Tuesday. (Image courtesy CDC)
Another 422 COVID cases reported in Alberta and two more deaths

The Alberta government reported 422 COVID-19 cases Tuesday and two more virus… Continue reading

test tube with the blood test is on the table next to the documents. Positive test for coronavirus covid-19. The concept of fighting a dangerous Chinese disease.
COVID-19 death toll verges on 10,000 as second wave continues to surge

Nearly 10,000 Canadians have died due to COVID-19, a mark of the… Continue reading

Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director of the Red Deer Food Bank, says the agency expects an increase in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Every new subscription to the Red Deer Advocate includes a $50 donation to the food bank. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Support the food bank with a subscription to the Red Deer Advocate

The community’s most vulnerable members are always in need of a hand,… Continue reading

Los Angeles Dodgers' Mookie Betts celebrates after a home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the eighth inning in Game 6 of the baseball World Series Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Best Betts: Dodgers win first World Series title since 1988

Best Betts: Dodgers win first World Series title since 1988

Wade Sira is shown in a handout photo. Sira, the leader of Saskatchewan's pro-independence Buffalo Party, says he's extremely happy with last night's provincial election results, even though no candidates clinched a seat.THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Wade Sira MANDATORY CREDIT
Buffalo Party’s strong showing in Saskatchewan vote a warning to Moe: experts

Buffalo Party’s strong showing in Saskatchewan vote a warning to Moe: experts

FILE - In this Sept. 28, 2019, file photo, Christian Coleman, of the United States, celebrates after crossing the line to win the gold medal in men's 100 meter final at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar. (AP Photo/Nick Didlick)
World champion Coleman banned 2 yrs; to miss Tokyo Olympics

World champion Coleman banned 2 yrs; to miss Tokyo Olympics

Saskatchewan Roughriders kicker Brett Lauther returns to the sideline after missing his fourth field goal attempt during second half CFL action against the Edmonton Eskimos, in Regina, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019.  It's been a very difficult year for a number of kickers this year in the NFL, but CFL veteran Lauther continues to wait for his opportunity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor
Former Riders kicker Brett Lauther patiently awaiting opportunity to kick in the NFL

Former Riders kicker Brett Lauther patiently awaiting opportunity to kick in the NFL

Nashville SC midfielder Randall Leal, left, is congratulated by Alex Muyl after scoring a goal during the first half of the team's MLS soccer match against the Montreal Impact, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Harrison, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
Willis gets MLS-leading 9th shutout, Nashville tops Montreal

Willis gets MLS-leading 9th shutout, Nashville tops Montreal

Kansas City mayor, star quarterback want Raptors to make Missouri temporary home

Kansas City mayor, star quarterback want Raptors to make Missouri temporary home

Djokovic, Thiem advance after slow starts in Vienna openers

Djokovic, Thiem advance after slow starts in Vienna openers

Most Read