COVID-19 misnomers explained

There is a lot of misinformation being shared on social media and in other formats regarding the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. To help clear up some of the misinformation, and better understand why information regarding the new virus continues to change, the Isanti-Chisago County Star reached out to Isanti County Public Health.

“Information is changing rapidly because this is a new virus. There is still a lot to learn about it. Health professionals operate on the best available knowledge at the time,” said Cassie Shaker, planner at Isanti County Public Health. “Isanti County Public Health aims to share new information from Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as it becomes available.”

She noted that recommendations and guidance changes based on the information available, as well as the number of cases and deaths. 

Contradictory information

Why are death counts from COVID-19 different on different pages of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website?

One of the things being questioned regarding COVID-19 is the official death count on the CDC’s website, specifically for those listed on the CDC page titled “Provisional Death Counts for Coronavirus Disease” (www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/COVID19/) and those listed on the page “Cases in the US” (www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html). 

The “Provisional Death Counts for Coronavirus” page reports a lower number of deaths due to COVID-19 than than the “Cases in the US” page. 

The “Provisional Death Counts for Coronavirus Disease” is using numbers submitted to the National Center for Health Statistics, which take longer to process and are a couple of weeks behind the cases on the other page, explained Cassie Shaker, planner with Isanti County Public Health.

As stated on the CDC’s “Provisional Death Counts for Coronavirus Disease,” “Provisional death counts are based on death certificate data received and coded by the National Center for Health Statistics as of May 12, 2020. Death counts are delayed and may differ from other published sources.”

It also states, “It is important to note that it can take several weeks for death records to be submitted to National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), processed, coded, and tabulated. Therefore, the data shown on this page may be incomplete, and will likely not include all deaths that occurred during a given time period, especially for the more recent time periods. Death counts for earlier weeks are continually revised and may increase or decrease as new and updated death certificate data are received from the states by NCHS. COVID-19 death counts shown here may differ from other published sources, as data currently are lagged by an average of 1-2 weeks.”

The “Cases in the US” page lists real-time numbers being reported by each state, District of Columbia, and Territory Health Departments, Shaker explained.

COVID-19 deaths since the week ending Feb. 1 through the week ending May 9 were 51,495 deaths on the “Provisional Death Counts for Coronavirus Disease” page as of May 12, and there were 349 COVID-19 deaths reported for Minnesota during that time period. 

The “Cases in the US” page lists 80,820 deaths to COVID-19 through May 12, and 591 in Minnesota. However, it should also be noted that the CDC numbers lag behind the Minnesota Department of Health’s numbers. As of 4 p.m. May 11, there were 614 deaths to COVID-19 in Minnesota according to MDH.

Changes to recommendations with  face masks

Another controversial topic surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic is whether or not a face mask should be worn while out in public. 

Some of the confusion stems from the CDC changing its own recommendations. In early March, the CDC and Coronavirus Task Force were not recommending the wearing of face masks, but that changed in early April when they began to say everyone should wear a mask. 

“Since this is a new virus, we are learning continuously. Recommendations have changed based on the best available information at the time,” Shaker said, noting health officials are now also seeing widespread community (person-to-person) transmission. 

During widespread community transmission, it is difficult to identify a single person who gave the virus to a patient. There is also concern amongst public health officials for transmission from asymptomatic people (those who have COVID-19 virus, but are not showing symptoms) and pre-symptomatic people (those with COVID-19, but are not yet showing symptoms).

“CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission,” according to the CDC website.

The CDC website also notes, “It is important we save N95 respirators and surgical masks for healthcare workers and first responders.”

My mask protects you. Your mask protects me.

“Wearing a homemade cloth face mask works by catching respiratory droplets and preventing you from sharing the droplets with others,” Shaker said. “They are useful for people who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, and help to prevent the wearer from giving the virus to others.”

She noted an explanation she likes regarding face masks is, “My mask protects you. Your mask protects me.”

The CDC website has a page on guidance regarding cloth face masks, which can be found at  www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html. It includes instructions for creating homemade sewn or no-sew masks. 

It is important to note wearing a mask is not a substitute for social distancing, Shaker noted. “You should still continue to keep six feet from others (when possible), wash your hands frequently, and stay home when you are sick,” she said. “It is also important to wash your cloth face mask after every use, using a washing machine. Cloth face masks will continue to be important in reducing COVID-19 spread as the County and State starts opening back up.”

Although wearing a face mask is recommended, there are some people who should be should not wear one, including children under two years of age and anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance, according to the CDC.

Isanti County COVID-19 residents

As of May 7, when Shaker provided information, there were seven lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in Isanti County and five of those had been released from isolation. The age range of cases were people in their 20s to people in their 60s. Since limited information the county receives from MDH is limited, Shaker was unable to report if any of those cases had been hospitalized. 

As of 4 p.m. May 11, there were three additional cases of COVID-19 in Isanti County for a total of 10 cases. 

Cambridge Medical Center is currently conducting curbside tests for whose who are symptomatic for COVID-19. Hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Those who would like to schedule a test should call 612-262-4145.

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