Dangerous advice on COVID-19 on AskMeFi March 8, 2020 9:25 PM   Subscribe

People are answering AskMeFi questions about COVID-19 with incorrect advice, endangering at-risk populations. Preventing the use of MetaFilter to distribute dangerous misinformation is a matter of life and death.

In one recent thread, the spouse of a highly medically at-risk person was given incorrect advice about hand sanitization, and advised on ways to take more lax social distancing measures than the CDC recommendations. This is not a game. This is an emergency, and we all need to treat it like one.

The mods need to familiarize themselves with the relevant guidelines, and to give highest priority above all moderation tasks to preventing the use of MetaFilter as a platform for spreading disinformation during a pandemic.
posted by strangely stunted trees to MetaFilter-Related at 9:25 PM (129 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

If folks would like to work together to collate a list of reliable best practices and info sheets in here as something to point members and readers too, I think that'd be a decent plan.

It's not workable to expect the mod staff to attain and to vet/enforce expert-level knowledge of COVID19 in particular or epidemiology and medical best practices in general on the site. We don't have the resources or the background for that. I think encouraging folks to proceed with caution and avoid rumor-milling and such, especially in Ask, is a good idea, but that will need to be a community project.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:28 PM on March 8 [51 favorites]


Maybe those resources would be something to add to the new question page like the Halloween & Christmas stuff?
posted by bleep at 9:32 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


Just wash your hands.


(on and in another context from a different thread, lift with your knees not your back)
posted by sammyo at 9:37 PM on March 8


It's not workable to expect the mod staff to attain and to vet/enforce expert-level knowledge of COVID19 in particular or epidemiology and medical best practices in general on the site.

I'm not asking you to become epidemiologists or public health experts, but I am asking you to make a commitment to remove disinformation when it's brought to your attention, and familiarize yourselves with guidance oriented to a general public audience, such as the CDC's Guidance on People at Risk for Serious Illness from COVID-19.

I think it's a great idea for people to put together a list of reliable resources, but this need to be a top priority from the mods too. The dangerous advice I referred to is still up on this thread, telling the spouse of a 75 year old male with three separate high risk conditions about the safest way to go the gym even after I've flagged it and started this MeTa.

Yes or no, does this mean that the mods won't delete dangerous misinformation about COVID-19 once you're aware of it?
posted by strangely stunted trees at 9:45 PM on March 8 [29 favorites]


As a medically at-risk person in NYC, I have appreciated the legitimate links in several of the AskMeFi posts. Perhaps they could be rounded up and added to if someone had the time and expertise?

Based on the info in a link I read today, I am changing an activity which I had not considered a problem.
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 9:50 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


I have to say that discussing how to mitigate germ exposure at the gym may not be what you consider "good" advice, but it doesn't rise to definition of "dangerous misinformation". If it is pretty accurate information and I would hope that the couple in question can evaluate whether their need to work out at the gym in order to mediate their known conditions outweighs the possibility that they are going to be exposed at the gym. Everyone's risk tolerance is different, I don't think that is something the mods can be in charge of ruling on.

"Dangerous misinformation" to me would better describe a statement like, "masks will protect you" or even better "elderberry will protect you.", not advice on how to keep living the life they want to, just with increased vigilance.
posted by stormygrey at 9:58 PM on March 8 [62 favorites]


There’s also advice in that thread that instead of performing correct hand hygiene, you should spritz your hands and things you touch with a spray bottle of rubbing alcohol, and then wash your hands and your face at the same time. It’s still up too.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:07 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


Maybe those resources would be something to add to the new question page like the Halloween & Christmas stuff?

That's eminently sensible.

The up-to-date WHO/CDC/NIH guidelines would be a good place to start, along with a proviso that people should consult their local health authorities (i.e., not everyone is in the U.S., so it's not "your local county," no offence intended to county health authorities who are doing everything they can, but the relevant organization varies globally).

A great deal of the answers really boil down to "Consult [relevant public health authority's] evidence-based current info."
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:07 PM on March 8 [7 favorites]


But one person in that thread basically said to ignore the CDC and any Republican-controlled state public health department because they are compromised under Trump/Republicans. At a thousand-foot view, fine, but far from helpful in this case. That's the most dangerous advice in the thread IMO, and, uh, "it's still there".
posted by sylvanshine at 10:13 PM on March 8 [12 favorites]


Thank you for posting this MeTa - it's not just happening in AskMe, and I think one thing that would be really helpful is if people could be vigilant about linking to credible sources so readers can assess where the information is coming from.

Also, resources are being collected in the Medical/Pandemic section of the MeFi Wiki Disaster Planning & Recovery page, and more can always be added.
posted by katra at 10:24 PM on March 8 [12 favorites]


askme is always full of woo and ridiculous nonsense and nonsensical advice from people who have literally no ability to fathom what the OP is going through physically - i mention this specifically in the context of bizarre/terrible recommendations given in threads on chronic pain, but it's a persistent issue in all health-related threads, and it's exhausting.

anyway i think using the "flag with note" option is probably the best bet for this particular situation? this ongoing viral pandemic situation, i mean, not the single question in question. i know from personal experience (sorry mods) that there is pretty much no end to how much you can furiously type in the pop-up notes textarea.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:55 PM on March 8 [42 favorites]


But one person in that thread basically said to ignore the CDC and any Republican-controlled state public health department because they are compromised under Trump/Republicans. At a thousand-foot view, fine, but far from helpful in this case. That's the most dangerous advice in the thread IMO, and, uh, "it's still there".

That seems like a good example of how adding a source can help clarify the point - e.g. the Associated Press quoting an expert on infectious diseases who says "clearer and louder guidance should be made to vulnerable people, so they take every possible step to avoid settings where they might more easily become infected" provides more context to the guidelines recently added to the CDC website. I don't think anyone is accusing the Trump administration of responding to covid-19 too seriously, and reporting posted on the blue appears to indicate exactly the opposite, e.g. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]
posted by katra at 10:56 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


If folks would like to work together to collate a list of reliable best practices and info sheets in here as something to point members and readers too, I think that'd be a decent plan.

IANAD, but these are the top-level homepages for info from:

World Health Organization

National Institutes of Health

Centers for Disease Control

The note on the CDC's site that says: "This is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation and CDC will provide updated information as it becomes available, in addition to updated guidance," kind of says it all. It's understandable that people have questions. We all do.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:01 PM on March 8 [5 favorites]


A suggestion:

How about this as a starting point for the "Post a New Question" screen?

Post a New Question:

This form submits a question to Ask MetaFilter.

Do you have a question about COVID-19/Coronavirus? The World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, or Centers for Disease Control websites carry up-to-date, evidence-based information. You might have a question that can't be answered there. Depending on where you live, your local health authorities may have the specific information you need. You can still ask questions about it here, but please consult those resources first.

Here is the FAQ for Ask MetaFilter.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:23 PM on March 8 [82 favorites]


The Internet Book of Critical Care chapter on COVID-19 is directed more at health care workers than a general audience, and you can safely skim or ignore the parts about what to look for when reading a chest CT and so on, but there are pieces of very useful information for a non-clinical audience mixed in, on topics like infection control, symptoms, and prognosis for low- and high-risk patients. Please don't try to get all of the pieces of medical PPE in it like gowns and N95 masks, though. That's all needed on the front lines.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 11:34 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


Given that the OP said that they were going to continue going to the gym, I don't think that advice on how to minimize their risk while going to the gym is reckless.
posted by salvia at 12:00 AM on March 9 [30 favorites]


I think you're extremely overconfident about whether or not it's correct or not for the poster to go to the gym. Nobody here knows what they do at the gym, how many people go to their gym, or what the odds that any of those people have COVID-19 are. I think you need to make a much stronger case for the claim that telling them how to be safer at the gym is harmful and stupid.

It seems really good for anyone (mods included) to correct false premises or false answers, but I think AskMe will be more useful if it focuses on answering questions instead of trying to figure out how to talk askers into changing their behavior.
posted by value of information at 1:01 AM on March 9 [10 favorites]


Given that the OP said that they were going to continue going to the gym, I don't think that advice on how to minimize their risk while going to the gym is reckless.

The OP said:
[...] we work out at our gym five days a week, and are resistant to modifying that schedule. [...] We're kind of stuck between resolving to isolate ourselves by staying home (which is admittedly much harder for me than for him) and determining that living our lives as normal is the best strategy. What do you say?
I'm aware that AskMe will have all kinds of answers, including unsourced and potentially dangerous advice like 'going to the gym makes you less likely to get sick' and 'copper tape almost definitely kills coronavirus quickly,' but I appreciate this MeTa because it is asking the community to try to do better and to take more care when answering these questions.
posted by katra at 1:02 AM on March 9 [9 favorites]


The situation with COVID019 is evolving very rapidly. A month ago, the medical consensus would probably be to tell people not to worry unless they had come back from a trip to Wuhan. In most places, we are moving from a "contain" strategy where outbreaks could assume to be geographically limited to a "delay" strategy where the virus can be assumed to be out there in many of our communities. The speed of this movement is enough to surprise many: literally last week's informed recommendations may be out of date.

So the warning to responders in these threads is very apt. For my own part I posted something which turned out to be inaccurate in one thread and feel bad about that (even after immediately flagging it to be taken down). Try not to make my mistake. It is all too easy to find material which is too panicky, too complacent, factually incorrect or which you have incorrectly summarised.

On the other hand, these threads are a vital source of very informed and up to date information - such as the "Internet Book of Critical Care" chapter posted above - or this Ars Technica article posted in the thread cited. Each thread is a vital resource for many and we all owe it to each other and other readers to try to keep the quality as high as possible.

From the article above - there is the assertion that high number of people (80% of so) who appear contract the virus without showing symptoms which are any milder than flu - together with the high R⌀ (number of people that an infected person infects) level of 2.5-2.9 (greater than exponential) mean that we may have been underestimating the speed of spread of the virus - we will only know for sure by testing populations for immunity after the outbreak. That means that the person in our family or office who is coughing and sneezing right now, could well be a carrier. That is a worrying thought - but not one we should be complacent about or fail to take precautions against.
posted by rongorongo at 1:36 AM on March 9 [13 favorites]


I'm aware that AskMe will have all kinds of answers, including unsourced and potentially dangerous advice like 'going to the gym makes you less likely to get sick' and 'copper tape almost definitely kills coronavirus quickly,' but I appreciate this MeTa because it is asking the community to try to do better and to take more care when answering these questions.

I'm not sure if it's rude to derail based on this one thing or whether it might serve as a good concrete example for what good and bad communication tactics should be and what is an appropriate level of certainty before giving advice. I think my remark about copper was true. The reason I suggested it is that copper seems to rapidly kill or inactivate a wide variety of bacteria and viruses using apparent mechanisms that seem relatively independent of the structure of the thing (e.g. destroying DNA and RNA). See e.g.

https://mbio.asm.org/content/6/6/e01697-15 (another human coronavirus)
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1855605/ (influenza A)
https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0075017 (norovirus)

It seems about as likely as you can get without anyone having published results specifically on the novel coronavirus, which I admit means that it is not 100% likely. Do you still disagree that this is good advice?

I kind of left out sources for brevity's sake, figuring that people are likely to independently research something before taking advice -- maybe that was a bad idea. I'm also open to the idea that "almost definitely" was too strong language and "probably" or something would be better. But I think it's a good idea to give advice even if it is only 95% likely to work instead of 100%.
posted by value of information at 1:47 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


There actually are sources supporting the idea of copper as a way to keep coronaviruses from being transmitted on high touch surfaces.

One:
“In this new study, human coronavirus 229E was rapidly inactivated on a range of copper alloys...Exposure to copper destroyed the viral genomes and irreversibly affected virus morphology, including disintegration of envelope and dispersal of surface spikes. Cu(I) and Cu(II) moieties were responsible for the inactivation, which was enhanced by reactive oxygen species generation on alloy surfaces, resulting in even faster inactivation than was seen with nonenveloped viruses on copper. Consequently, copper alloy surfaces could be employed in communal areas and at any mass gatherings to help reduce transmission of respiratory viruses from contaminated surfaces and protect the public health.

IMPORTANCE:
Respiratory viruses are responsible for more deaths globally than any other infectious agent. Animal coronaviruses that "host jump" to humans result in severe infections with high mortality, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and, more recently, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). We show here that a closely related human coronavirus, 229E, which causes upper respiratory tract infection in healthy individuals and serious disease in patients with comorbidities, remained infectious on surface materials common to public and domestic areas for several days. The low infectious dose means that this is a significant infection risk to anyone touching a contaminated surface. However, rapid inactivation, irreversible destruction of viral RNA, and massive structural damage were observed in coronavirus exposed to copper and copper alloy surfaces. Incorporation of copper alloy surfaces in conjunction with effective cleaning regimens and good clinical practice could help to control transmission of respiratory coronaviruses, including MERS and SARS.”

Source: “Human Coronavirus 229E Remains Infectious on Common Touch Surface Materials,” American Society for Microbiology mBio November 2015

(Or, on preview, what value of information said.)
posted by hungrytiger at 1:55 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


I do agree that we need to be super vigilant here about what advice is given here about COVID-19. Maybe it would be a good idea to ask people to source their answers on the topic?
posted by hungrytiger at 2:30 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


I did not say "to ignore the CDC and any Republican-controlled state public health department because they are compromised under Trump/Republicans."

What I said was "I think it's rational to assume that the US CDC is at least partially compromised. Consider the dance the NOAA had to do around the Alabama Hurricane fiasco. It's probably better to trust your state public health department, unless your state government is deeply ideologically Republican, in which case people at the top may be holding back to support the current political leaders. If this is the case, you may want to pay some attention to nearby states that may have a deeper commitment to factual reality (for instance, if you are in North Carolina, you may also monitor the Virginia public health department)."

Sources matter because facts matter, and the people at the top running things don't actually believe in facts. I'm not saying to ignore the CDC. It's full of experts desperately trying to do their jobs. Just think critically and compare the advice they give against other sources like the WHO, because at some point they may come out with a statement like "we know we said to enact social distancing, but we were wrong because our Dear Leader has said it will hurt the economy." If we've trained everyone to just obey the CDC commands, we haven't done nearly enough. Call me paranoid, but when the hurricane predictors have to publicly apologize to the Guy with the Sharpie, we've turned a corner.
posted by rikschell at 4:35 AM on March 9 [40 favorites]


All I know is that I have flagged several pieces of misinformation about the virus here with a note, and none of those comments have been removed. We aren't asking the moderators to be epidemiologists, but to please remove bad information when it is called to their attention. What is the point of the flag otherwise?
posted by k8lin at 6:01 AM on March 9 [14 favorites]


Bad advice about life and death issues should be marked in some way - ideally by other posters - or deleted.
posted by mdonley at 7:13 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


k8lin, us know if there is a misunderstanding, but I'm only seeing one Ask comment you've flagged as containing misinformation, and it was deleted. It's possible that it wasn't deleted at an earlier point, so seemed like it remained?
posted by taz (staff) at 7:24 AM on March 9


I agree with this MeTa 100%. It is completely reasonable that the mods don’t want to or can’t evaluate the truth or falsity of health or medical advice, but in that case, we should consider adding a very clear, large, bold warning that people should not take medical advice from this site or consider banning questions that seek medical advice.
posted by sallybrown at 7:46 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


I disagree. For a variety of inclusive reasons. That have been mentioned in metas of the past when someone thinks we should ban all questions.

I also disagree with this new whole thing where we need to have sources for every single thing. It feels like we are now supposed to write a master's degree in every comment.

Readers can judge for themselves the answers and if you disagree with the advice you can mention it in the thread. Like any question.
posted by kanata at 7:55 AM on March 9 [23 favorites]


Since I can't see what I've flagged easily, I'm not sure. But over the weekend, I feel certain that I flagged at least two comments containing bad information that remained for awhile as I read the thread (I believe it was in a thread about travel). It sounds like my memory about this is wrong, and I apologize. Maybe they were on the blue. I did flag one this morning that has since been deleted.
posted by k8lin at 8:10 AM on March 9


I strongly disagree that we should ban those questions. This is a site with a userbase that skews older, and it can be a valuable source of information if we do a good job of this.

To do that, though, we need to make this a top priority, even if that means making some temporary changes to the topics that moderation resources are most focused on, or to the norm that mods don't get involved in determining the truth or falsity of comments. Users can contribute too, by becoming familiar with the guidance from health authorities themselves, double-checking every time before you post that you're not giving advice that's more lax than or inconsistent with the guidelines, and flagging with comment when they see bad advice.

We are all going to have to change a lot of things about how we behave and live our lives for however long this thing is spreading uncontained, and the way that MetaFilter acts and is run is no exception.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:13 AM on March 9 [6 favorites]


Readers can judge for themselves the answers and if you disagree with the advice you can mention it in the thread. Like any question.

Most of the time this is a perfectly fine -- even good and preferable! -- approach, but I think a massive public health crisis is an atypical situation in which bad advice can spread very quickly and cause real, immediate harm, not only to the poster but potentially to the people they come into contact with, and to people who read the bad advice in the time before someone disagrees, or who just ignore the good advice.

I don't know exactly where to draw that line -- whether it's heavier mod involvement in deleting posts and comments before flags come in, whether it's exhorting people to flag more and err on removing things, whether it's posting notices to remind people to check their answers before replying, whether it's not allowing COVID-19 questions because there isn't the mod capacity to respond on a case-by-case basis, or something else entirely. But the way these questions are treated needs to be different than the rest of Ask, by people posting questions and answers and also by the mod team. By everyone.

Epidemics are a unique situation where 'let people disagree publicly and allow readers to sort out the truth' is a bad and actively harmful solution.
posted by cjelli at 8:20 AM on March 9 [18 favorites]


we need to make this a top priority, even if that means making some temporary changes to the topics that moderation resources are most focused on, or to the norm that mods don't get involved in

I don't use MeTa as often as I use other parts of the site, but are posters here always so bossy? I came here from the coronavirus thread that the OP is concerned with, and both in that thread and here OP is doing some heavy-handed policing of the comments, and here they're telling mods what they should do? I don't see a mod badge next to your name.

Also, at least a few of the people have been posting their sources, like the copper idea and also to recommendations and links on how to minimize risk, but OP hasn't done that in this thread or the other. Where's your moral/medical certainty arising from? Right now, the greatest source of panic in either thread is you.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 8:23 AM on March 9 [48 favorites]


Briefly: I'm going to come back around to the idea of having a shortlist of links to useful, trusted resources for folks needing to do some self-education or get practical answers to common "what can/should I do or avoid" questions central to the current situation, and to the idea suggested earlier in the thread of doing a seasonal notice type thing on the Ask posting page highlighting that stuff. That feels like a very doable first line of awareness raising that may help folks coming to Ask with worries or confusion and strip down the volume of COVID19 questions to just the stuff not simply and cleanly answered by that stuff.

That's also something we could potentially somehow latch onto e.g. #covid tagged asks, though I'm not going to volunteer that work for frimble without talking about ideas and implementation with them first.

One thing that would be very helpful from the mod end is folks who feel they're operating from a position of domain knowledge focusing on improving outcomes in actual question threads by sharing resources and information in a constructive way, vs. being short with other users or with the mods. I appreciate that this is a somewhat uniquely stressful situation, and that's straining everyone. Please keep in mind that people giving answers you feel are bad or wrong aren't doing so out of spite; please also keep in mind that the mod team is having to deal with literally all of the COVID19 stuff happening on the site and whatever your level of stress or upset about a given thread or comment is, we are swimming through more and it is wearing us down too.

Flag notes are helpful. Email is helpful. Discussion in here that focuses on "how can we help this work" rather than "why didn't you do x" is helpful. I'm fine with trying to turn what resources we can spare to figuring out a good approach here, but, yeah, folks need to keep in mind how strained those resources have been and are and work with us in that spirit.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:33 AM on March 9 [28 favorites]


Pluto Gangsta: I'm normally very inclined to let things flow, but this is not a normal situation. I'm saying this so strongly because it could save people's lives.

You're absolutely right that I should have cited sources, and I'll commit to doing better on that.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:34 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


I don't mean to be glib, but, welcome to Ask. As a healthcare provider who's given hundreds of answers in my area of expertise, I have come to accept that any internet advice site that accepts answers and advice from its general membership is going to have to accept a caveat emptor approach to how each nugget of advice is received.

It's overly alarmist to characterize this situation as any different than any individual question on a serious medical condition. There's questionable/anecdotal advice given on the entire spectrum of medical issues, and for the asker, or any interested reader, that advice could be life-threatening. it's why we don't diagnose on here, and why we are careful not to allow our advice to be construed as an actual authoritative directive.

Unless the staff are trained medical professionals, asking them to mod medical advice just doesn't seem appropriate. Unless there is someone misrepresenting themself as an expert in their answer.

Use care and common sense. There are good and easily accessible sources for info on this outbreak. If advice seems odd or too good to be true, be skeptical and dig deeper. And really, don't trust the internet for medical advice, that's what actual health care professionals are there for.
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:45 AM on March 9 [87 favorites]


"There’s also advice in that thread that instead of performing correct hand hygiene, you should spritz your hands and things you touch with a spray bottle of rubbing alcohol, and then wash your hands and your face at the same time."


I suppose I could have been more clear. I apply the rubbing alcohol and rub it in for 20 seconds. I'm pretty sure this is as effective as hand sanitizer, as rubbing alcohol is the main ingredient of hand sanitizer. I do this to try and keep covid out of my car. I can't wash my hands while I am standing at my car door, so this is the next best thing. I realize this does not guarantee complete destruction of covid, but it probably helps. Also, standing in front of my front door I can't wash my hands, so 20 seconds of rubbing alcohol can't hurt.
So, after all this I wash my hands in hot soapy water, and then my face, in hot soapy water.

I do not understand how my going beyond what is recommended is such a terrible crime. I think people can make up their own minds what they want to do, but considering the severity of the disease, a bit of over caution makes sense.

btw, a message that an answer has been deleted and a short explanation would be helpful.
posted by H21 at 10:05 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


The thing is -- fatality rate and sources are a crap shoot because they're not testing. It's a safe bet that far more have it then have tested positive.

Fearmongering, even if you believe you know The Truth, doesn't save lives. Someone with Type II Diabetes needs to exercise and shop for healthy food.
posted by TravellingCari at 10:08 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


telling the spouse of a 75 year old male with three separate high risk conditions about the safest way to go the gym

From a harm reduction standpoint, this is useful. I hear what you are saying, we should not be offering harm reduction but telling people they can't do what they say they are going to do. And that's a good thing to do also, explain why they should reconsider their choices. Both types of advice are going to be offered and both are okay. People who want to be in an AskMe thread explaining why harm reduction is not appropriate are also welcome to comment. Mods will put a note on the "ask a question" page encouraging people to familiarize themselves with authoritative scientific information so that they can make the choices that work for them. People assess risks differently (CDC guidelines, fyi) and literally nothing we do on this website is going to change that.
posted by jessamyn (temp) at 10:19 AM on March 9 [21 favorites]


And really, don't trust the internet for medical advice, that's what actual health care professionals are there for.

Indeed, although under these circumstances, it may become more difficult to reach health care professionals as strain increases (WaPo), at least in the American health care system. It doesn't change the fact that AskMe cannot ever provide medical advice, but it may change the underlying circumstances of why people are asking questions and reading answers. It also feels like a confusing time in America, with mixed messages coming from our government (WaPo) about the need to take precautions, and I think that could be part of what we are grappling with here.

There actually are sources supporting the idea of copper as a way to keep coronaviruses from being transmitted on high touch surfaces.

But none that appear to have been incorporated into guidance such as Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public (WHO), which is why I ended up with a source referencing the CDC and how long similar coronaviruses appear to survive on copper and steel. I was trying to provide a source to offset what may have the potential for a false sense of security, based on what seemed like an optimistic misreading of limited scientific evidence. When I was looking for sources, I saw a study suggesting a benefit from copper, which is why I kept looking to see if it had been incorporated into guidance from organizations like WHO and the CDC. So I think it can be problematic to make suggestions like this without a critical assessment of why it is not common public health advice. There is a lot of information still being developed (PubMed), which is why caution (and frequent hand-washing (MedLinePlus, via NIH)) seems warranted right now. We're going to have disagreements, but I think ideally, we're using credible sources to back up our points, and ultimately the reader is always the one who will decide.

I appreciate that this is a somewhat uniquely stressful situation, and that's straining everyone.

I think this bears repeating. I don't see how it's workable to ask the mods to intervene, especially against what may be an increasing tide of questions and comments as more communities become directly impacted by covid-19. I also think that when people talk about their personal experiences, that can be very valuable and its own form of community support. I feel like it gets more challenging when we are talking about how to prepare and protect ourselves and our communities if we are not careful about relying on credible sources of information. I don't see a downside in asking the community to be more careful about answers, both when reading and posting, because it's basically a community service during a challenging time.
posted by katra at 10:31 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


> H21:I'm pretty sure this is as effective as hand sanitizer
Gel keeps the alcohol from evaporating and makes it more effective.
posted by theora55 at 11:25 AM on March 9 [6 favorites]


I suppose I could have been more clear. I apply the rubbing alcohol and rub it in for 20 seconds. I'm pretty sure this is as effective as hand sanitizer, as rubbing alcohol is the main ingredient of hand sanitizer.

Look this up and check. At the risk of being one of those people giving un-cited advice, I remember reading that you actually have to dilute rubbing alcohol a certain amount to use as hand sanitizer. Full strength rubbing alcohol evaporates too fast.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:44 AM on March 9 [8 favorites]


My opinion is that allowing Ask to deal with questions like this is clearly unethical, and always has been. However the mods and cortex in particular made it clear long ago that they don’t see themselves as being in any way responsible for poor advice given here, even when they know people were hurt by it.
posted by Segundus at 11:45 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


There is no way for AskMe to protect the world from itself. There is no way for the mods here to become adjudicating experts on all the medical, mental health, sanitation, safety, and other issues people want to ask about. If you are concerned, post or point to the most authoritative links you know of on the topic. People are responsible for their own choices and actions.

What's been said and presented on AskMe so far is a hell of a sight better than the "info" being traded on my own town's Facebook page. AskMe at least is likely to include a good number of accurate and useful sources even among the chaff, unlike almost all other places online to ask about particulars. Final decisions to accept and apply information must always lie with the user.
posted by Miko at 12:23 PM on March 9 [49 favorites]


So, there are subjects in the world that are best addressed by experts. Law, medicine, electrical work, and financial matters all come to mind, among many others. All of these fields have specialized knowledge that one learns only through study and experience. Without that specialized knowledge, these areas are full of pitfalls and dangers - even some irreversible dangers, like electrocution, losing one's savings, etc.

So -- what is to be done about that? Aside from the type of heightened awareness of problems in these types of areas, as bunnycup advocates, I think there is nothing to be done. We've identified an inherent problem in AskMe. But there is no way to correct the problem short of shutting down AskMe.


posted by Mid almost exactly 10 years ago
posted by ODiV at 12:58 PM on March 9 [10 favorites]


Can we not respond to the increased stress everyone is under right now by attempting to offload as much of that stress as possible to the mods? They have enough on their plate without us asking them to pick up the CDC's slack.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 1:00 PM on March 9 [54 favorites]


To > mandolin conspiracy's links:
.World Health Organization
.National Institutes of Health
.Centers for Disease Control

I would add:
.Johns Hopkins' Coronavirus Resource Center and
.European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control because it seems useful to have additional sources outside the US.

But just like people are buying lots of water and not distinguishing between N95 masks and surgical masks, etc., lots of people make decisions based on lots of stuff.
posted by theora55 at 1:16 PM on March 9 [6 favorites]


I find the Coronavirus Check-In MeTas pretty useful. I think a Coronavirus Thread roundup in the sidebar would be a good thing.
posted by theora55 at 1:20 PM on March 9 [11 favorites]


Fearmongering ... doesn't save lives. Someone with Type II diabetes needs to exercise ...

Agreed! And the original thread does include good suggestions of places to exercise where it's easier to keep a distance from someone who might be infected. Not all exercise has to take place in a gym.
posted by virago at 1:44 PM on March 9 [3 favorites]


We're working on an amended AskMe post page that will have links like the ones from mandolin conspiracy, above.
posted by jessamyn (temp) at 2:17 PM on March 9 [10 favorites]


Is it worth considering whether "Everyone needs a hug" is also dangerous advice at the present moment?
posted by neroli at 2:51 PM on March 9 [22 favorites]


We're working on an amended AskMe post page that will have links like the ones from mandolin conspiracy, above.

fwiw, links based on that list are collected on the MeFi Wiki Disaster Planning & Recovery page in the Medical/Pandemic section.
posted by katra at 2:54 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


Note: The more dangerous hugs get the more people need them
posted by bleep at 2:58 PM on March 9 [16 favorites]


This crossed my desk and I thought maybe it would be worth noting someplace.

2:57 PM · Mar 9, 2020
The national @distressline is available with 24/7 emotional support & crisis counseling for anyone in the U.S./territories experiencing emotional distress or other #mentalhealth concerns related to the #COVID19 outbreak. (1/3)

Trained counselors who answer the calls from a network of independently operated crisis centers across the U.S. will listen to what’s on the caller’s/texter’s mind, explore coping & other avail. supports & offer referrals to community resources for follow-up care/support. (2/3)

Call 1-800-985-5990 or text #TalkWithUs to 66746 to be connected to a trained, caring counselor. #COVID19 (3/3)
posted by ob1quixote at 3:07 PM on March 9 [9 favorites]


This crossed my desk and I thought maybe it would be worth noting someplace.

The US Disaster Distress hotline is already added to both the Medical / Mental Health section of the Disaster Planning & Recovery page and the list of mental health crisis hotlines on the ThereIsHelp wiki page, but it certainly bears repeating in times like these.
posted by katra at 3:11 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


GOV.UK has good, reliable, up to date and definitive information on coronavirus in the UK. It would be helpful to include it in any list of links.
posted by plonkee at 4:06 PM on March 9


We also added a link on the sidebar. If there are more posts people think should be there (to stuff on MeFi) letme or one of the mods know.
posted by jessamyn (temp) at 4:11 PM on March 9 [12 favorites]


It feels like the AskMe questions (both for the poster and the responders) are a way of managing anxiety. I totally get that, and yet it does feel we are all just guessing here. As people have pointed out, this is a rapidly evolving situation with new information, testing methods, WHO or CDC or country-specific guidelines coming out every day. I responded to one of the AskMes but I'm just a person who has been obsessively following this, not a microbiologist or epidemiologist or medical practitioner. It doesn't feel unethical, but it does feel like moral support rather than practical support.

I do wish there was a different way to aggregate our collective need for reassurance and information than having six separate posts on the blue and a dozen AskMes.

I had contacted the mods (cortex answered and noted that this type of burst of posts is normal) about novel coronavirus/covid-19 questions and posts proliferating. I see now that Jessamyn has noted that we need to manage to do this without a uspolitics style megathread. Do others have ideas on how to manage the covid-19 threads on MeFi?

I guess I am already overloaded with covid-19 coverage and don't want to have all of my internet saturated with this. The obvious individual solution is of course to either to stop reading MeFi for a bit and/or dial back my Twitter to include not quite so many Chinese journalists, global health professionals, Korean news orgs, etc.
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:02 PM on March 9 [13 favorites]


Personal testimony of Daniele Macchini, a surgeon of Bergamo, in Lombardy, at the epicenter of the Italian epidemic.

Translated into English by r/Medicine

The whole thing is worth reading, but some choice excerpts:
I still remember my night shift a week ago spent without any rest, waiting for a call from the microbiology department. I was waiting for the results of a swab taken from the first suspect case in our hospital, thinking about what consequences it would have for us and the hospital. If I think about it, my agitation for one possible case seems almost ridiculous and unjustified, now that I have seen what is happening. Well, the situation is now nothing short of dramatic. No other words come to mind. The war has literally exploded and battles are uninterrupted day and night.
[...]
So you should be patient too, you can't go to the theater, museums or gym. Try to have mercy on that myriad of older people you could exterminate. It is not your fault, I know, but of those who put it in your head that you are exaggerating and even this testimony may seem just an exaggeration for those who are far from the epidemic, but please, listen to us, try to leave the house only to indispensable things.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 9:35 PM on March 9 [9 favorites]


Most of the time this is a perfectly fine -- even good and preferable! -- approach, but I think a massive public health crisis is an atypical situation in which bad advice can spread very quickly and cause real, immediate harm, not only to the poster but potentially to the people they come into contact with, and to people who read the bad advice in the time before someone disagrees, or who just ignore the good advice.

The COVID-19 situation is a particularly acute and wide spread example but bad, misleading and straight up dangerous advice is given out on AskMe all the time. I see it in my field (electrical) and I have no problem at all believing healthcare workers who say bad medical advice abounds in their wheelhouse. I bet 25% of practical threads (IE: not things like name my cat or recommend a podcast) have advice within that could lead to embarrassment, financial loss, injury or death for the asker and/or innocent bystanders. I've certainly seen electrical advice given on AskMe that if followed would have about a 50% chance of killing the user.

However in the quasi regular Metas on this topic we always come down on the side of letting good information counter act the bad. As the mod team does not have omniscient knowledge of all things dangerous there is not any way they can police this and attempting to leads to a situation where readers are more trusting of the bad information that slips through because "mods wouldn't let dangerous information persist". I see nothing in the current circumstances that should change that.

Some experts can't live with this and end up leaving. Others stop reading threads in their area of expertise.
posted by Mitheral at 10:01 PM on March 9 [9 favorites]


Is it worth considering whether "Everyone needs a hug" is also dangerous advice at the present moment?

hugs are less risky than handshakes.
elbow bumps are less risky than hugs.
standing at a six foot distance and offering one of Spock's Live Long And Prosper gestures is safest of all.
posted by philip-random at 10:15 PM on March 9 [14 favorites]


Interesting example of the "speed of events" on a Covid-19 related thread: a massive 5 days ago, goofyfoot asked whether it would be OK to go ahead with a trip to Rome leaving this Thursday. The advice from about half of posters was "sure - go ahead and enjoy the lack of crowds". But, as of today, the whole country is under lock-down and goofyfoot 's trip is off.

Digging into the changing medical advice shows that Italy is doing the sensible thing and not over-reacting at all (Dr John Cambell speaks about the outbreak yesterday and emphasises why the virus will only have its spread delayed or halted by drastic action).

I don't think those of us who were advising the poster to go ahead with the trip, were being foolhardy. It is just that the consensus of medical advice has changed rapidly as people have learned more about the infection's spread.
posted by rongorongo at 12:37 AM on March 10 [33 favorites]


I’m unclear on whether OP is such an “expert” anyway. There’s a lot of newly minted epidemiologists all over social media lately. I’m generally anti-woo and closer to the view that AskMe should police health questions more strictly — for example the endless return of arguments about chiropractic when we know it is bogus BS. But I’m thinking in the current moment “expertise”’is a malleable thing, many “experts” (including at the CDC) are either lying to us or talking out their politicized asses, and enough of us know something relevant to keep tabs on such discussions here anyway. Fast moving situation, advice flying around everywhere, etc.

Also I don't use MeTa as often as I use other parts of the site, but are posters here always so bossy?

Ha ha. Yes. But remember it’s about five percent of the active site membership who participate so extensively here — ones really invested in metafilter beyond where most of us care. . It’s self-selecting for bossiness.
posted by spitbull at 4:34 AM on March 10 [17 favorites]


It is just that the consensus of medical advice has changed rapidly as people have learned more about the infection's spread.

which speaks to one of my percolating ASK concerns. How up to date are the various answers? I may link to a perfectly reputable site's solid piece of data ... from two weeks ago. And so on.

Please double check the time stamps on your links, everybody.
posted by philip-random at 8:45 AM on March 10 [2 favorites]


For any post tagged with "corona", "coronavirus", "covid", "covid19", or derivatives of such, perhaps programmatically tack a big red box at the top. Moderators could add such a tag, if not present.

Placed above all answers (in the case of AskMe) or comments (in the case of other subsites), this box would contain links to resources and information about this virus from WHO and other health authorities from around the world, and suggestions to use those resources to get the most authoritative and current advice and information regarding the subject, e.g.:

• WHO: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

• NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/wuhan-novel-coronavirus/

• NIH: https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus

• CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Several posts have included links to COVID-19-related resources, including this excellent post that collects a great number of online materials and data visualizations.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 10:43 AM on March 10 [2 favorites]


The AskMe post page now has a box with this information on it.
posted by jessamyn (temp) at 10:45 AM on March 10 [12 favorites]


I understand. I'm just suggesting something more like an automatic "warning" or "notice" box placed atop the post itself, not the submission page. Something like what biorxiv currently does for any virus-related preprints (example), but with more information here, intended to guide people reading the post after submission.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 10:50 AM on March 10


Sorry, was not intending to be a curt response to you, just letting people know this change was made.
posted by jessamyn (temp) at 10:57 AM on March 10 [3 favorites]


Something from the back of my head nagged me, and a Google search later, from 2009: 'harmful' flag? (I put this forward before the multiple-reasons-for-flags pull-down was introduced, so ignore the UI example.)

The MeTa there was more a public distrust, and a flag would be a private distrust to mods, but perhaps on the mod dashboard 'harmful' flags could be in red, especially if they go over a particular tipping-point number or something ...
posted by WCityMike at 1:17 PM on March 10


This may be out of scope, but I like the idea of adding a semi-permanent "Heads up, here are some guidelines about posting about $CURRENT_EVENT" box to the MeFi "New Post" page for specific high-traffic topics like this (and #uspolitics). It would help to better calibrate users' expectations around some of the guidelines and norms that we've established over the past year.

I also like the idea of having a similar canned messages that pop up on the "preview" page if your post includes a tag that relates to a to known-to-be-fraught topic (for both MeFi and AskMe).
posted by schmod at 2:36 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]


Where's your moral/medical certainty arising from? Right now, the greatest source of panic in either thread is you.

I’m unclear on whether OP is such an “expert” anyway.


I really try to keep my online identity separate from my real life, but I am a consultant in hospital administration. I am not a clinician, but I know how to listen to what clinicians are saying. I know my way around numbers quite well enough to understand what the epidemiological models imply, and I understand exactly how little spare capacity the US health care system has for the surge in ICU cases that is about to hit it. I'm not an expert in other countries' health systems, but I know enough to know that many of them will experience similar challenges. I have had conversations with executives (who, I will freely admit, were also not clinicians) at one of the most well-known research hospitals in the US about this in the last week.

I think this interview with Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch gives an excellent summary of the likely course that this pandemic will take. His conclusion is that millions will die, but that there are still steps that we can take now to reduce that number, like increasing social distancing measures.

You can go back to the Ask thread that rongorongo mentioned about travel to Italy, where half the people were telling the Asker to go, and you'll see that I was the very first person saying it would likely be very difficult to get back because of a quarantine.

I'm sorry if I came off of as bossy, and I guess it was silly and presumptuous of me to expect the site to change the ways it is so set in for anything. But come in back in two weeks and tell me whether or not you still think I was spreading panic.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 9:00 PM on March 10 [22 favorites]


My doctor put a special page up at the practice's website with information and best practices so that patients don't have to actually come in to get the information they need; I really appreciated that.

Am I the only one who keeps reading it as "CORVID-19" and thinking for a minute it's some kind of crow fever?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:25 PM on March 10 [18 favorites]


I can't help because I see opposing opinions / predictions in reputable sources* and it's in part because we need to predict the future to protect ourselves. I vote, if it counts, for any coronavirus / covid19 tagged question to have a subtitle saying: These are links the community recommends to be read in relation to this.

*when it comes to reputable sources, I tend to trust metafilter more than some other sources,excepting academic journal articles which I do not have the stomach to follow currently, while being aware we have a diverse membership and not everyone can be right all the time.
posted by b33j at 10:46 PM on March 10


But come in back in two weeks and tell me whether or not you still think I was spreading panic.

Let's all hope it doesn't come to that.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:11 PM on March 10


I do wish there was a different way to aggregate our collective need for reassurance and information than having six separate posts on the blue and a dozen AskMes.

I agree.
posted by unicorn chaser at 4:02 AM on March 11 [5 favorites]


I try not to online-debate much anymore; it doesn't ever seem effective. So I'm going to note a few things and then go away from this thread.

(!)
I am a consultant in hospital administration.

This seems to be happening a lot on the 'Net lately. Another widely disseminated person said, "I am not an epidemiologist, but my job involves doing back-of-the-envelope calculations about these kind of things."

You know who you listen to in these cases? The epidemiologists.

I'm truly sorry that this is going to sound like a personal attack, OP, but it seems to be a recurrent theme: the worst public doomsayers in this crisis seem to be those who are tangentially related to the medical profession yet are borrowing its cloak of authority without pause.

I've done litigation assistance for 20 years. I know the legal field. But I'm not a lawyer, and anyone asking for legal advice from me might get a sense of some things better than a layman's, but they might also get me saying things that are just wrong that I am under the mistaken impression are very much right, and said facts wouldn't get corrected unless there was also a lawyer with us who heard me and went 'wait a minute...'.

I am in no position to act as an expert in legal advice. I didn't put in the time, get the degree. I can't legitimately talk legal advice to people using the cloak of legal authority. You don't get to, either.

(2)
I think this interview with Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch gives an excellent summary of the likely course that this pandemic will take. His conclusion is that millions will die, but that there are still steps that we can take now to reduce that number, like increasing social distancing measures.

Here's a rough auto-transcript of that segment's audio from otter.ai. When asked whether it's an existential threat, he says no.

Lipsitch's statements elsewhere on this are fairly Google-able; he says "projections should be made with humility", recently revised his projections downward to 20-60%, and he said that his model is based on "the transmission in the rest of the world is at least fairly similar to that in China".

But "[case fatality rate]s do change over time. That’s exactly what happened in China, as you can see in this figure from the WHO. Even the first and hardest-hit province, Hubei, saw its death rate tumble as public health measures were strengthened and clinicians got better at identifying and treating people with the disease."

Are millions going to die? We simply don't know. It seems, at least, based on their own statements, a statement that needs serious qualification.

(3)
"People were overcome with delusions ... [predicting] a most dreadful plague, which should lay the whole City, and even the Kingdom waste." - Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, 1722. I think we've got ape-instinct on this issue.

(4)
I guess it was silly and presumptuous of me to expect the site to change the ways it is so set in for anything.

They took your advice and made some changes based on it. Just because people did not say "you are 100% right" does not mean. They have an existing record of information hygiene and I trust them to continue to act in that manner.

But come in back in two weeks and tell me whether or not you still think I was spreading panic.

This is only one semantic step away from "when millions are dying, you will see that I am right", and it is not a good statement to say to anyone. If you are feeling the urge/emotional intent to say this to people, you need to rethink how you are communicating, and look at the existing resources being spoken about for anxieties and distress related to this issue.
posted by WCityMike at 4:30 AM on March 11 [71 favorites]


But come in back in two weeks and tell me whether or not you still think I was spreading panic.

I never said you were spreading panic. I think panic is actually a reasonable response for some values of “panic” and some situations. But you were wrong about the copper thing, and as you say you’re not a clinician. In fact you’re not a scientist, you’re an administrator. So the question arises: who gets to decide what advice or perspective is out of bounds here?

I fully agreed with your take in the AskMe thread that OP was suggesting taking an unreasonable risk, and that some of the advice minimized that risk. But plenty of voices in thread, including yours and mine, called that out. Let’s just keep adding those voices of caution and informed critical points to such discussions. If one person believes something wrong or foolish then many people do and it’s a good chance to set them straight.
posted by spitbull at 4:52 AM on March 11 [7 favorites]


But I’m thinking in the current moment “expertise”’is a malleable thing, many “experts” (including at the CDC) are either lying to us or talking out their politicized asses

As an aside, I'd suggest seeking non-US/UK/Aus sources, for precisely this reason. Japan and South Korea seem to have a much more effective response than just about everyone.

I gather kids in Aus public schools are now receiving info from the NZ govt, who are a bit less prayer-reliant/apocalypse-embracing.
posted by pompomtom at 5:22 AM on March 11 [3 favorites]


Personally, I've been thinking that this coming Monday or Tuesday will be when most people in the US start to recognize that covid-19 will affect them personally, as I think it's when most large cities will have significant outbreaks. I'm certainly not among the "it's not a big deal" group—but I also believe that in relative terms we're fortunate because we've been due a pandemic and it could have been much worse. This will act as a wake-up call and hopefully will get us better prepared.

All in all, I'm in agreement with emphasizing that this isn't business as usual.

That said, there are both general and pragmatic reasons why MetaFilter mods cannot screen AskMe for wrong answers, even about medicine. I vividly recall when we had the first very heated debate about this fifteen years ago. Sure, the perfect shouldn't be the enemy of the good, but it's just not clear to me even how a "good enough" deletion strategy for wrong covid-19 answers would actually work.

For one thing, "wrong" in this case is a quickly moving target. Are those who are asymptomatic contagious? We don't yet know. How easily is this transmitted via surfaces? Or as an actual aerosal? We don't yet know. Could an antiviral be effective? We don't yet know. Is the global case fatality rate likely to converge toward one percent or three? We don't yet know. Will there be enough lab capacity and materials in the US to meet the testing demand in the US in a week? Two? If and when will the US run out of hospital beds? We don't yet know.

And the answers to all these questions have strong implications for what choices individual people make.

It's not that the stakes aren't high. It's not that this isn't an extraordinary situation. It's that even if somehow MetaFilter, the company, had the resources and qualifications to vet every AskMe answer—which it does not—what is correct will change even within the time-frame question threads are active.

The best the mods can do is make reliable sources of information especially visible to AskMe questioners, which they've already done, and for the community itself do likewise and to endeavor, when answering, to provide reliably sourced information, with citations.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:50 AM on March 11 [10 favorites]


Will there be enough lab capacity and materials in the US to meet the testing demand in the US in a week? Two? If and when will the US run out of hospital beds? We don't yet know.

...Are deaths outside the US even important? Who can know?
posted by pompomtom at 6:00 AM on March 11 [12 favorites]


I didn't intend to diminish the importance of conditions outside the US, it's just that those issues are specific to each country and the US appears to be particularly ill-prepared.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:14 AM on March 11 [3 favorites]


even if somehow MetaFilter, the company, had the resources and qualifications to vet every AskMe answer—which it does not—what is correct will change even within the time-frame question threads are active

So delete all of them with a comment "this is outside the scope of AskMe but here are some links to the CDC/WHO/etc", same as with questions about suicidal ideation or other acute mental health crises.
posted by Flannery Culp at 6:38 AM on March 11 [4 favorites]


Am I the only one who keeps reading it as "CORVID-19" and thinking for a minute it's some kind of crow fever?

As someone who has been involved with academic research for far too long, every time I see CORVID-19 I reflexively think "Huh. I wonder where this year's CORVID conference is going to be held and whether it's a great location for a conference-holiday?"
posted by Wordshore at 7:05 AM on March 11 [9 favorites]


I'm pretty sure this is as effective as hand sanitizer, as rubbing alcohol is the main ingredient of hand sanitizer.

This is incorrect - yes, hand sanitizer has to have alcohol at a concentration of at least 60%, but the details are important and can make a difference between helpful versus harmful, it sounds like.

The standard public health advice around touching potentially contaminated surfaces when you can't wash your hands - eg. when you have to turn off a faucet after washing your hands - is to not touch the surface directly but instead use a disposable paper towel or something instead. IANAD and you should seek out and trust the advice of actual medical experts in this area. I do know that different viruses can survive on hard surfaces like most of your car, or soft surfaces like your car seat upholstery, for varying amounts of time, and would recommend following the links provided in other comments above to determine whether the covid-19 virus is toward the "dies in under a minute" end of the scale or whether it is toward the "survives on hard surfaces for several days" end. (Last I checked, they weren't sure yet, but that was at least two or three weeks ago.)
posted by eviemath at 7:16 AM on March 11


the copper thing

I have tried and tried but I can't get my head around "the copper thing," or how it's useful to anyone just now, but it nevertheless keeps getting brought up. What is the copper thing and how is it useful in the context of the current virus problem? If it's "hospitals, restaurants, subways, and gyms would transmit fewer communicable diseases if they switched from stainless steel to copper for high-use surfaces," that sounds like very useful information for the future. It sounds like worse than useless information for now.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:49 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]


What is the copper thing and how is it useful in the context of the current virus problem?

This advice was given on one of the threads:
Consider covering common shared surfaces that you might touch with dirty hands (e.g. sink handle, doorknobs, light ... with copper tape, which almost definitely kills coronavirus quickly.

Note: I am not saying this is useful advice.
posted by FencingGal at 9:12 AM on March 11


the copper thing

It was an example I mentioned as something that could provide a false sense of security (and thus discourage reasonable precautions). What is "right" in this instance seems to be more of a debate about how to interpret limited research evidence versus the advice of public health authorities.

But I'm a lawyer, so I'm not interested in "right." I'm interested in finding credible information and letting the reader judge for themselves. As a member of the community, I am worried about misinformation contributing to confusion and adding to existing anxiety.

It seems well-established that the mods can't take on the duty and related liability of ensuring that all advice provided here is risk-free, and many of those MeTas are collected on the Get A Lawyer wiki page. As a member of the general community, I do wish that people could try to do better with covid-19 information, but I also agree that we do a lot better here than many online forums - another example is the rapid response from the mods to this MeTa, which has been awesome and very much appreciated, and now the community is better connected to credible sources of information and support.

Thank you, OP!
posted by katra at 10:02 AM on March 11 [11 favorites]


What I see is that actual experts/professionals rarely provide information in the clear, unambiguous language that laypeople desire - because things are rarely that simple. If they were that simple, then society wouldn't need highly trained and paid experts in the first place. A lot of things in our world, the experts don't know (it's not called a "novel" coronavirus for nothing) and are working off previous history, similar incidents, and sometimes just gut feelings.

Think about something in which you have a lot of knowledge/training/expertise - no doubt other people think that it's much simpler. And you probably think what they do is simpler than it really is. Everything is more complicated than it appears. The copper tape thing might work in laboratory conditions, against specific threats: definitely doesn't mean that it's 100% effective, and it doesn't mean we should all run out and buy some.

So we have public officials/well-meaning persons/politicians/charlatans/scam artists all providing clear and unambiguous advice that travels well - and no surprise that laypeople can't tell the difference. When the experts start providing clear advice, it's often too late.
posted by meowzilla at 10:41 AM on March 11 [25 favorites]


strangely stunted trees, this MeTa made me defensive, because I was an answerer in that Ask. But it's clear you were paying attention and thinking clearly. thanks. The news is scarier daily.
posted by theora55 at 7:42 PM on March 11 [7 favorites]


Think about something in which you have a lot of knowledge/training/expertise - no doubt other people think that it's much simpler.

Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect.
posted by pompomtom at 8:40 PM on March 11


Just as a coda to the copper discussion, here's a preprint published yesterday of a new study showing how long the novel coronavirus seems to survive on a variety of surfaces, so if anyone else is trying to figure that out you may be interested in reading.

https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.09.20033217v1

Incidentally, I also noticed today that on the CDC's website they say specifically "It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads." although they don't say anything more specific about how likely they think it is or why. So take that, too, for what it's worth.

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/transmission.html
posted by value of information at 1:35 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


H21: btw, a message that an answer has been deleted and a short explanation would be helpful.

I can appreciate why and how that would be useful. It would also take a whole lot of time and resources that are probably not available. And in some (many?) cases it would lead to back-and-forth discussion that would take even more.

I'm a moderator on a different site, and I'm sure that notifying people about deletions, especially with any kind of explanation, would make each deletion take 3 to 5 times as much time. If people start responding to these notifications, that number goes through the roof.

Here are some previous MetaTalks about the subject of deletion notifications.

TL;DR:
Not happening.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:28 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


I've messaged the mods to tell them I was OK with their deletion of one of my comments. I hope that message didn't use too much of their time.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:43 AM on March 12


Definitely a world of difference between folks sometimes taking proactive action to reach out to the mods and a system saddling every routine deletion with a "hey, maybe you got an opinion about this" prompt, yeah. We're available when people do want to talk/ask but that doesn't mean we have the spare energy to make that the default event every time for a basic part of how the site works.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:24 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Not each individual comment, each individual post. Cut off the stream of misinformation before it gets going.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:57 AM on March 12


Sorry, to be clear I was responding to the H21 -> Too-Ticky -> Kirth Gerson chain above.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:03 AM on March 12


"Not each individual comment, each individual post. "

This is about AskMeFi. It's the answers/comments that contain information, be it dangerous or not... not the posts.
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:04 AM on March 12


Yes, I understand, hence my comment above delete all of them with a comment "this is outside the scope of AskMe but here are some links to the CDC/WHO/etc", same as with questions about suicidal ideation or other acute mental health crises. The deletion comment can be a standardized cut-and-paste thing. If bad information is more dangerous than no information, don't allow these AskMe posts at all.
posted by Flannery Culp at 8:30 AM on March 12


Thank you for the clarification.
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:41 AM on March 12


Why is this comment still up? I flagged it with a note. It's completely inaccurate, and it's the first comment, to boot. American citizens are not affected by the European travel ban.

https://ask.metafilter.com/342676/Would-I-be-insane-to-travel-to-Paris-next-month#4915380
posted by Automocar at 9:29 AM on March 12


It's directly clarified below in the thread, and was a very common takeaway from Trump's national address which makes it something worth having explicitly addressed in the thread is my feeling. People not being misinformed would be the ideal case, but we're living through this situation as it is and capturing some of that call-and-response may in my opinion be better than trying to erase existence of some very real contemporaneous confusion.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:34 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Also, just because it's possible to return from Paris now doesn't mean that it will be possible to return from Paris in late April, when the poster is asking about. The comment may be right, just for the wrong reasons.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 9:39 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


So part of the "call-and-response" of AskMe is to give people bad information? Seems weird but okay I guess
posted by Automocar at 9:53 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


So part of the "call-and-response" of AskMe is to give people bad information? Seems weird but okay I guess

AskMe is operating more or less how it always has. And some people don't like that and never will. This is okay.

And yes, some of that is that mods don't decide what "good information" is, and people in the thread are allowed to contradict bad information when they see it as long as they are answering the question. Mods take some extra steps when the comments themselves cause harm literally on their own (racist stuff, as an obvious example, or misgendering) but the presumption is that people will be reading the thread, not reading one comment and saying "Wellp, this agrees with my bad idea so I'm going for it." and not reading the rest.

I know it's hard watching people in real time grapple with decisions that can have real life consequences that could be very negative. I think what we're debating is whether it's better to have open discussions about these topics or just disallow them (or answers to them). And figuring out what is happening is a swiftly moving target.

tl;dr the call-and-response of AskMe has always included bad information. In my non-mod opinion a harm reduction approach, allowing questions and answers, especially where bad information can be clarified and cleared up, is an appropriate one.
posted by jessamyn (temp) at 11:27 AM on March 12 [19 favorites]


I mean, I'd be fine with a blanket ban on COVID-19 questions, so I'm obviously outside of the mod team/site norms on this issue. The downsides are vast and the upside is minimal. There's no shortage of places to get COVID-19 information.
posted by Automocar at 12:14 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


the presumption is that people will be reading the thread, not reading one comment and saying "Wellp, this agrees with my bad idea so I'm going for it." and not reading the rest

Counterpoint: every relationship question
posted by Flannery Culp at 12:16 PM on March 12 [13 favorites]


So part of the "call-and-response" of AskMe is to give people bad information? Seems weird but okay I guess

AskMe is operating more or less how it always has.


I'd also like to point out that the response in question isn't even obviously "bad information." The "may" in that sentence could well be interpreted to mean that the poster is not trying to describe the effect of the current ban, but rather using it as a basis for a prediction of the possibility of future, more stringent bans. And even not giving that benefit of the doubt, the poster is hardly the source of confusion of who the ban applies to - we can thank 45 directly for that. So if nothing else, the comment provided the opportunity for other posters to clarify that already-existing piece of misinformation. I'm all for a calm and critical examination of whether long-standing policies should be adjusted temporarily or permanently to meet the needs of the MeFi population during this pandemic, but the way this particular example has been cited seems to be not that.
posted by solotoro at 12:38 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


It seems like most of the questions people are asking aren't really health based and more around adjusting the things they had to do before to this new obstacle. I don't think those kinds of questions should be banned.
posted by bleep at 12:56 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]


FYI, the New York Times has dropped the paywall for Covid19 reporting. My local paper, too.
posted by theora55 at 1:46 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]


Anybody who's set for provisions and money right now should consider making a donation to your local food bank. Between layoffs and children losing meals from school closures, a lot of people need food.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 6:15 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]


I understand people are gonna need a minute to adjust to the new situation but in general if your question is "Should I do XXXX even though there is covid-19" the answer is always "no, don't do that. Stay home."
posted by Justinian at 9:40 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]


Just wash your hands.

And take two Slarty Bartfasts and text me in the morning.
posted by y2karl at 10:31 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


I don't mean to be glib, but, welcome to Ask. As a healthcare provider who's given hundreds of answers in my area of expertise, I have come to accept that any internet advice site that accepts answers and advice from its general membership is going to have to accept a caveat emptor approach to how each nugget of advice is received.

For real, this. Knowledgeable Health Care Providers have been arguing about this kind of thing since we accessed AskMefi via dialup modem. To summarize literally hundreds of thousands of comments previously on this exact topic, it is not reasonable for mods to correct every right or wrong statement that contains nuanced medical information in which they are not expert. Only an idiot asks for such information in AskMe and expects it to be the complete, up to the minute information, and those that represent their answers as such are only slightly less idiotic. If you see someone say something that is just wrong wrong wrong, then fine, jump in and correct it (with citations and authoritative sourcing if you can). Otherwise, this is a fool's errand.

In AskMe, there is next to no fact checking or quality control for highly technical topics. When you post a medical question, assume you are getting advice from peers, not medical experts. And taking that assumption, AskMe is a perfectly fine, helpful site. In the past, consensus has been "it's not a great idea to rely on AskMe for definitive medical advice" but also "it's not a great idea to censor these kinds of questions." Poster, beware.

"I have a fever, is it COVID-19?" is a fine question when you get answers back like "I had a fever and I thought it was COVID-19 and I stayed home from work and got better and here's how I handled it" or "This is the current state of testing where you live" is helpful advice for someone who is worried. "I am a respiratory therapist and you definitely have COVID-19 and are about to get intubated" ought to be less useful. But it's always poster beware.

I stopped responding to a lot of these publicly, I have little time to correct misinformation. I have even less time to correct misinformation and then argue about it with someone. Be aware that your life-or-death medical question is only going to receive opinion responses from people who have unknown credentials. That includes myself. If I tell you that you're fucked in an AskMe thread, I am just a jag-off who doesn't know you and you don't know me.

It is worth noting that AskMe has been spectacularly wrong with the community's assessment of a person's medical problem in the past [thinking of the paranoid schizophrenic that everyone thought was depressed and needed counseling, this was the one that Ikkyu2 flamed out over]. If you have to get detailed medical info from anonymous people, be aware that many of the Most Knowledgeable are specifically not answering medical questions anymore.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:14 AM on March 13 [12 favorites]


People who have bad information don't know that it's bad but they share it anyway because it's human instinct to share any information you have in case someone else can use it. Wouldn't it be better to just leave a comment if you know the answer to a question, so that the OP can have a good answer to their question and anyone with bad information can learn something? I don't get it.
posted by bleep at 9:29 AM on March 13


Not to relitigate the whole ikkyu2 thing but what difference did it actually make what askme thought that guy's problem was, if it got him to go see a professional who was actually the one making the decision about how to treat him? Askme isn't the one writing prescriptions, just convincing people to go on a quest to get help even though it's extremely difficult, time consuming, and expensive.
posted by bleep at 9:31 AM on March 13


There is a long backstory to the ikkyu2 thing which might be better left alone.
posted by jessamyn (temp) at 9:57 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Second that. It did not by any means display this place at its best.
posted by y2karl at 11:59 AM on March 13


I understand people are gonna need a minute to adjust to the new situation but in general if your question is "Should I do XXXX even though there is covid-19" the answer is always "no, don't do that. Stay home."

As we declare a national emergency and see the first elections cancelled, it's important to remember it *is* possible to overreact. There are going to be a lot of people, as always, trying to profit off of fear and misinformation. The best answer to some questions will in fact be "that is fine."
posted by mark k at 3:51 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


There is a story in one of the Terry Pratchett novels about a wizard who knows the time and date that he will die and spends his whole life preparing for it, building a tiny safe room that is absolutely impermeable. Nothing can get in whatsoever. It has shields against magic, it can't be crushed if the Unseen University falls down on it, he's got spells on him so no disease can kill him... and of course once he is safely inside his box determined to survive, Death appears beside him and comments, "CLOSE IN HERE, ISN'T IT?"

All your safety measures will make not you safe, they can only make you safer. The disease is airborne. You have to breath. So all the Covid-19 advice being given out is to make you safer, not safe. We're in classic harm reduction territory here, not suggesting magic 100% solutions. For most of us we are aiming to not get Covid-19 until there are enough beds, oxygen and respirators available so that if we are one of the bad cases we can get help, and we are set on doing our damnedest not to give it to anyone else at whatever stage of the pandemic we get it. This guy is not going to go away. It's going to be the yearly cold, flu, and coronavirus* season.

A lot of what we do to protect ourselves are rituals. We murmur a prayer as we step off the curb, or swab before injecting, or wash our hands before we sit down to dinner and we do them because they are habits and practices that we have incorporated into our automatic functioning. Some of them have been shown by investigation to be harmful (the prayer, as people rely on it instead of staying on the curb or looking closely), useless but not harmful (the pre-injection swab) and highly helpful (washing hands).

So we are getting a grab bag of suggestions that run from 'this will make you feel safer' to 'this is clinically proven to reduce transmission a little bit but barely at all' to 'this will make you a lot safer'.

The trick is for people giving advice and reading it to figure out into which category the answer falls. And I guess the onus should be on people posting the advice to make it clear which category the advice falls into. We can't know how well people reading our answers will be able to make that judgement.

There has been a lot of back and forth in different threads about hand sanitizer and things to use in lieu of hand sanitizer if you can't get it, or if people should go to certain places or not. And the answer to all these questions, of course is that you should not be confidently relying on hand sanitizer if you go out in public, no matter what you are using because you will still have increased your risk enormously by going out. Any answer that suggests maybe you could use this, or try that is working from the assumption that you have ruled out staying home and not interacting with anyone outside or anything new coming from outside, so we are now only left trying to mitigate the risk a little, and provide you with comfort rituals that make you feel less frightened about your decision to go out.


*wtf? My spell checker doesn't know the word coronavirus?!
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:00 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


The coronavirus is not airborne. It is spread via droplets.
posted by k8lin at 6:40 AM on March 14 [8 favorites]


Coronavirus Disease 2019 vs. the Flu (Johns Hopkins)
COVID-19 might be spread through the airborne route, meaning that tiny droplets remaining in the air could cause disease in others even after the ill person is no longer near.
posted by katra at 6:18 PM on March 14


sure, but ""might" is the key word there and is doing an awful lot of work in that sentence.
posted by Justinian at 6:28 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


(Though yes I acknowledge that k8lin's statement was definitively "no" rather than "we're not sure but probably no".)
posted by Justinian at 6:29 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Recent reports are also indicating infected people without symptoms might be driving the spread of coronavirus more than we realized (CNN / MSN) and Coronavirus: many infections spread by people yet to show symptoms – scientists (Guardian). The point remains that everyone will be making their own personal risk assessment, and it seems helpful to try to find information from credible sources to help with those assessments.
posted by katra at 6:44 PM on March 14


somebody said it elsewhere. We're all only as good as our last twelve days. That's how long you could be walking around asymptomatic but nevertheless infectious. Where were we all twelve days ago, and all the days since? What did we touch? Who sneezed five feet away? Who fixed the meals we didn't fix ourselves? Who did we have a few laughs with? And so on.

It's really tough to wrap one's mind around it, but there it is. Everybody's either too worried or not worried enough.

As one of my neighbors put it this afternoon (retired now but he studied epidemiology in university), pretty much EVERYBODY should be exercising some level of self-quarantine right now. Until such time as we get a better grasp on things, understand the full magnitude of what we're dealing with. Which isn't going to happen quickly, certainly not on some agreed upon timeline. What will happen at some point is the number of people recovering will start to exceed the number of new infections.

It's not the end of the world, but rather like 9/11, it feels like the end of a world.
posted by philip-random at 7:49 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


It's not the end of the world, but rather like 9/11, it feels like the end of a world.

It's the end of a world.
posted by Miko at 6:55 AM on March 15 [3 favorites]


Peter Sandeman's article on the psychiatrist concept of "Adjustment Reactions" is appropriate to consider right now (via Peak Prosperity's video here) - when a new circumstances demand that we dramatically re-evaluate our perception of risk then we all go through a sort of shock. His point is that this process is an effective natural reaction. If you are reading this then you are probably quite late on in the process at the point where you are starting to to see and react to the threat proportionally. It can be easy to be dismissive of the sometimes ridiculous reactions of those who are earlier on in the process (those avoiding Corona beer, those looking at conspiracy theories on the virus origin, etc) - or of those who are still in anger, denial, bargaining, depression). Something to be aware of when if trying to answer questions.

Sandeman's original article was written at the time of SARS - but here is his latest post as of yesterday. In his terms - it is not the end of the world; it is the end of life as we know it. That takes some adjusting.
posted by rongorongo at 7:03 AM on March 15 [6 favorites]


sure, but ""might" is the key word there and is doing an awful lot of work in that sentence.

How Long Will Coronavirus Live on Surfaces or in the Air Around You? (NYT)
The new study, published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, also suggests that the virus disintegrates over the course of a day on cardboard, lessening the worry among consumers that deliveries will spread the virus during this period of staying and working from home.

When the virus becomes suspended in droplets smaller than 5 micrometers — known as aerosols — it can stay suspended for about a half-hour, researchers said, before drifting down and settling on surfaces where it can linger for hours. The finding on aerosol in particular is inconsistent with the World Health Organization’s position that the virus is not transported by air.

[...] That the virus can survive and stay infectious in aerosols is also important for health care workers. For weeks experts have maintained that the virus is not airborne. But in fact, it can travel through the air and stay suspended for that period of about a half-hour.

[...] The virus does not linger in the air at high enough levels to be a risk to most people who are not physically near an infected person. But the procedures health care workers use to care for infected patients are likely to generate aerosols. [...] A study that is being reviewed by experts bears out this fear. And another study, published March 4 in JAMA, also indicates that the virus is transported by air. That study, based in Singapore, found the virus on a ventilator in the hospital room of an infected patient, where it could only have reached via the air.

Dr. Marr said the World Health Organization has so far referred to the virus as not airborne, but that health care workers should wear gear, including respirator masks, assuming that it is. “Based on aerosol science and recent findings on flu virus,” she said, “surgical masks are probably insufficient.” [...] “It sounds scary,” she said, “but unless you’re close to someone, the amount you’ve been exposed to is very low.”

[...] Dr. Munster noted that, overall, the new coronavirus seems no more capable of surviving for long periods than its close cousins SARS and MERS, which caused previous epidemics. That suggests there are other reasons, such as transmission by people who don’t have symptoms, for its ability to cause a pandemic.
posted by katra at 6:59 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


excellent Jeff Wise piece about the infection process: How the Coronavirus Could Take Over Your Body (Before You Ever Feel It)
posted by Greg Nog at 7:29 AM on March 23


Not for nothing, but I’m going to note that if you have any anxiety about Covid-19, I would strongly (as in strongly) recommend giving Greg Nog's link a miss. Yes, it’s an excellent piece, but it’s going to seriously spike your anxiety levels.
posted by holborne at 9:15 AM on March 23 [3 favorites]


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