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With more and more rallies nationwide calling on states to reopen – including one in Sycamore last week – facts about COVID-19 are getting muddled.

One of the biggest myths that Beth Squires, public health educator at Northern Illinois University, tries to debunk is about masks. Namely, how some say masks can prevent building up of the immune system.

“Really, no,” Squires said. “The importance of wearing the mask is you might have been exposed to COVID-19, but you are currently asymptomatic, so you could be spreading it. And you can’t assume you haven’t been exposed. The testing just isn’t there.”

It’s all part of a larger battle, said Suzanne Degges-White, chair of NIU’s Counseling and Counselor Education Department in the College of Education.

“We have science versus fantasy. We have science versus economy,” Degges-White said. “We have people whose livelihoods have been totally wrecked by this that those of us who have not had that level of loss can’t understand. We have to empathize with those people.”

In trying to connect with people who believe a COVID-19 myth, Degges-White emphasized empathy.

She used as an example “Plandemic,” a 26-minute video that has more than 8 million views despite being removed from multiple social platforms for spreading misinformation.

“People want to believe that because it makes it easy,” Degges-White said. “It gives them the answers they are seeking versus not knowing. As human beings we want control so bad. We want to pin blame, we want to find a reason, we want there to be a bad guy.”

Degges-White said having someone to blame gives people a sense of relief.

“It’s a virus. It’s going to do what it wants to do,” Degges-White said. “It’s going to mutate when it wants to mutate. You can’t put it in jail. You’re looking for someone to blame, but you can’t even blame China. I don’t know where this came from. Who knows? Viruses show up all the time, and sometimes they are brilliant. This is a brilliant virus. It’s brought the globe to its knees in many ways.”

And the internet allows falsehoods involving the virus to thrive, she said. It also doesn’t help that the novel nature of the virus means researchers are learning more all the time, and some new information contradicts old information.

At first, people were discouraged from wearing masks, but now masks have been found to be helpful in slowing the transmission of the virus.

In addition to empathy, Degges-White said positive reinforcement can be a very useful tool in swaying people’s opinions, as can leading by example – such as by wearing a mask or socially distancing.

“We speak up when our health and our families health are at stake,” Degges-White said. “We model what we want others to do, and we give positive reinforcement. When you comment on that it can really stay with people: ‘Thanks for wearing a mask’ or ‘I really appreciate you taking this as seriously as I do.’ ”

At the Reopen Illinois rally in Sycamore last week, nurse Nicole Dulski spoke for over 10 minutes, discussing points of the Plandemic video, specifically the anti-vaccine aspects of it.

But she also talked about communicating with those whose views on the coronavirus differ from the about 100 people in attendance.

“They are lonely, and they miss their families,” Dulski said. “They missed being hugged, even if they look like they’d punch us if we come within their 6 feet of space. They need us to be patient while we keep trying to wake them up.”

Another common talking point when it comes to reopening is developing herd immunity. But Squires said herd immunity is something that requires a vaccine.

She said researchers aren’t even sure having COVID-19 makes you immune from it in the future.

“It’s used with vaccine-preventable diseases, which COVID-19 is a part of right now,” Squires said. “What we want to do for all those vaccine-preventable diseases like polio, measles, mumps, is get as much as the population vaccinated against it. What’s nice about vaccines is they allow your body to build up antibodies to the virus but not to become fully sick with it.”

Squires also said that people point out how the models were off and there weren’t the large amount of cases predicted, or how makeshift hospitals were set up but then underused.

She said this, however, shows stay-at-home orders weren’t overreactions.

“This is to show the sheltering in place is working,” Squires said. “We haven’t overreacted. We haven’t done too much. It is actually showing we have slowed the spread of the disease enough, we haven’t had the high amount of cases the models predicted.”

Squires said questioning results is part of the scientific process and healthy to do. But when looking for information on the internet, going to reputable sources is important.

“That’s the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, your state health department and your local health department,” Squires said. “This is the danger of watching videos on social media. You don’t know the source.”

Degges-White said it boils down to people making decisions with their hearts more than their heads, feeling something versus thinking something.

“We need to help someone who’s feeling something that is not accurate recognize the fallacy in their beliefs,” Degges-White said. “And that could be a struggle.

“When it comes down to making people change, it’s just darned tough,” she said. “And sometimes people don’t change until they’ve got a family member or themselves that are ill.”

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