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US surgeon general warns of misinformation as delta variant surges

July 19, 2021
3 min read
White House Holds Daily Press Briefing
US surgeon general warns of misinformation as delta variant surges
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On Thursday, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued his first advisory as surgeon general "to warn the American public about the urgent threat of health misinformation," as Murthy grows increasingly concerned about the connection between misinformation and vaccination hesitancy.

"Health misinformation, including disinformation, have threatened the U.S. response to COVID-19 and continue to prevent Americans from getting vaccinated, prolonging the pandemic and putting lives at risk, and the advisory encourages technology and social media companies to take more responsibility to stop online spread of health misinformation," the advisory read, and also noted that nearly 70% of unvaccinated American adults had heard at least one myth related to the vaccine.

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"Health misinformation is an urgent threat to public health. It can cause confusion, sow mistrust, and undermine public health efforts, including our ongoing work to end the COVID-19 pandemic," said Murthy. "From the tech and social media companies who must do more to address the spread on their platforms, to all of us identifying and avoiding sharing misinformation, tackling this challenge will require an all-of-society approach, but it is critical for the long-term health of our nation."

Murthy's release has already affected cities across the U.S., including Los Angeles, where the Department of Public Health reissued a mask mandate that went into effect this weekend following a rise in COVID-19 cases tied to the delta variant.

Related: Israel mulls ban on all leisure travel as COVID-19 cases spike again

On the other side of the country, New York City has seen a period of days with 400-plus new cases and a doubled test positivity rate despite nearly 64% of adults being fully vaccinated, per The New York Times. The delta variant has become the dominant strain across the city and New Jersey, according to NBC News. Springfield, Missouri, remains a hotbed for COVID-19 and has seen nearly 2,000 new cases per day, which Mayor Ken McClure attributed to misinformation spreading on social media.

“My worry is that all this misinformation that’s floating around is having a real cost that can be measured in lives lost and that is just tragic,” the surgeon general said on Sunday during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union."

Related: Chicago reinstates travel restrictions on Missouri, Arkansas as COVID cases surge

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On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that individuals age 2 and older wear masks in school this fall, regardless of vaccination status.

"AAP recommends universal masking because a significant portion of the student population is not yet eligible for vaccines, and masking is proven to reduce transmission of the virus and to protect those who are not vaccinated," the AAP said. "Many schools will not have a system to monitor vaccine status of students, teachers and staff, and some communities overall have low vaccination uptake where the virus may be circulating more prominently."

Murthy also called on Big Tech to "step up" and acknowledge their role in the dissemination of misinformation.

Featured image by Bloomberg via Getty Images
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