Myths about COVID-19 seem to be spreading as fast as the disease itself. Among the latest in out-there conspiracy theories concerns how the novel coronavirus responsible for the disease came about. A new poll reveals that many Americans believe the virus was probably made in a lab in China, CNN reports.
The Pew Research Center carried out the poll from March 11 to 16, after the World Health Organization had officially deemed COVID-19 a pandemic, but before most states had issued shelter-in-place and similar orders, per CNN. Nearly 30% of adults polled responded that they thought the novel coronavirus was likely concocted in a lab, which is flat-out false. Twenty-three percent said they thought it was probably made intentionally — also highly, highly unlikely, according to geneticists, while only 43% reported believing it emerged naturally.
While scientists are still teasing apart the specifics of the pandemic’s origins, virus experts agree that it likely started out in a bat, according to CNN. Indeed, a study published in Nature in February found that the genome of the novel coronavirus is 96% identical to that of a bat coronavirus. The virus was initially thought to have arisen in a wet market in China, but this, too, has been called into question after a Lancet study reported that many of the first 41 patients—including the very first confirmed one — hadn’t been exposed to the market.
The far-right news channel One America News Network, a fav of President Trump’s, has repeatedly brought up the mad scientist coronavirus origin story. In an investigation for the network, reporter Chanel Rion concluded that a lab in North Carolina made the virus, according to CNN.
The coronavirus pandemic has spurred what the World Health Organization calls an “infodemic” — a deluge of false information on social media, from a “self-test” for COVID-19 that involves holding your breath for 10 seconds, to the notion of hydroxychloroquine as a “game-changer.” While the theory that the novel coronavirus was built in a lab might seem innocuous, the finding that so many Americans are willing to believe it raises the possibility that they’re also susceptible to other misinformation that could very well endanger themselves and others.