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Ever since it became clear that COVID-19 was spreading across the globe, there's been another pandemic proliferating in its wake.
This "other" pandemic isn't immediately visible to the naked eye.
It's not grabbing as many headlines.
But it's everywhere.
And it's dangerous.
I'm talking about the pandemic of misinformation, conspiracy theories, and outright lies about COVID-19.
With our world being turned upside-down and scientists still searching for responses to this brand-new virus, regular folks like us are searching for answers.
And there are plenty of people in "the media" and out there in the online sphere who are only too happy to provide their half-baked guesses as "answers."
But to protect yourself, your family, and your economic wellbeing, you need to know what's really going on.
So today, let's close that Reality Gap between what half-baked pundits, self-important voices, and self-serving politicians are saying, and what we really know.
I've asked myself why I should weigh in and if I felt comfortable doing so. I answered that question by considering that - as a trained chemical engineer who was awarded the highest level of licensing - I have the credentials and the experience to sort through the scientific noise, to separate some of the signals from the noise, and to understand how these insights can be applied.
And to help make sure I'm bringing you all the "full story," I've also leaned on experts credentialed in science, medicine, risk analysis, and crisis management.
Here's what's being said about the COVID-19 pandemic. And here's what's actually true about it...
Myth No. 1: "This is just like the flu or the cold."
This is an incredibly misleading statement. COVID-19 is caused by a new virus that has never been seen in humans before, called SARS-CoV-2. This virus is unrelated to the influenza viruses, and has some similarities with a few of the many viruses that can cause the common cold.
However, this virus has spread across the world much faster than the flu or other common viruses do. Scientists say this comes down to two facts: First, this SARS-CoV-2 virus can spread from people even before they show any symptoms, unlike SARS, the flu, and common colds. In fact, it looks like some people never get any symptoms of infection but can spread the virus anyway.
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Second, because the virus has several new features compared to its relatives among the common cold viruses or SARS, humans have no immunity to it. So it's virulent. And it spreads unimpeded.
On that last point, it is true that about 80% of people who catch this virus show no or so-called "mild" symptoms. But don't be fooled: Those symptoms classified as "mild" just mean they don't require you to be hospitalized. In other words, "mild" symptoms run the gamut from just a slight fever to actually struggling to breathe and being bed-ridden for weeks.
Meanwhile, the other 20% have to be hospitalized, provided with oxygen, and even put on ventilators.
The bottom line: This is nothing like the common cold or seasonal flu.
Myth No. 2: "COVID-19 is no big deal - we're overreacting."
This is related to the point we just covered - but COVID-19 is very deadly. Official data currently puts U.S. deaths from COVID-19 at 42,364.
Compare that to the 34,200 Americans who died from the seasonal flu during the whole 2018-19 flu period, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
And keep in mind that the first U.S. COVID-19 death only occurred in late February. So in just two months, this pandemic has killed more Americans than the flu does in an entire year.
Another way to visualize this is to look at New York City, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak. Here's a chart from The New York Times showing all forms of death in the city. The dotted line shows the expected deaths, and the red line shows the actual deaths.
As you can see, the spike in deaths from early March through early April is unprecedented in New York City in the last 20 years.
This is why hospitals there were overflowing and why the morgues were so full the city had to bring in freezer trucks to store bodies.
The bottom line: This pandemic is a very big deal.
Myth No. 3: "The virus is a Chinese bioweapon released or accidentally let loose from a lab."
This claim has been getting a lot of traction; we've even seen some politicians repeating it. When I first read of this possibility, I thought it was just for the tinfoil hat people. Now there are at least some circumstantial signs that make this at least a non-zero chance of being plausible.
The first outbreak of COVID-19 happened in the Chinese city of Wuhan, in the Huanan Seafood Market, which was also selling live land animals. However, the very first identified case of COVID-19 was of a Chinese man in Wuhan who to this day has had no known connection to that market.
This raises the possibility that his infection and the Huanan outbreak both were caused by some third source. Of course, it also means that the tracing of his contacts with Huanan Market is incomplete, and that he unknowingly got the virus from someone who had been there.
At the same time, just miles away from Huanan is the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory. Rated P4, the highest security grade a disease lab can get, this facility performs research and testing on potentially dangerous diseases. It was founded in 2018 as a joint project with France to increase biosafety in China, and was the first P4 lab in the country.
The closeness of this lab to the Huanan Seafood Market and some reports from years past about lapses in safety protocols have prompted politicians to request an official investigation. After all, a patient without any known connection to the first outbreak combined with a maximum security biosafety lab makes for a good story.
But according to a highly-regarded research paper published in Nature Medicine, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has a number of features that make it very unlikely to be a bioweapon, and unlikely to have been accidentally released from a lab.
First, the researchers point out that the very protein that makes the virus so good at infecting human cells should not work according to computer simulations.
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In other words, if you were designing this virus as a bioweapon, you would not have made it this way.
Second, the virus has some features that likely improve its defenses against the immune system. However, no researcher has ever before described these features in a coronavirus. This makes it unlikely this virus was being studied before being released.
Instead, these features have both been linked in the past to viruses that pass between animals and humans for a while before starting to spread between humans.
Researchers also point out that this virus carries the signs of having evolved for some time in bats and pangolins (scaly anteaters), or other related animals.
The bottom line: While it's not out of the question, and we can't say for sure, it's far more likely this new coronavirus jumped from animals to humans, as many viruses have done in the past.
Myth No. 4: "There's no point in wearing masks, as they won't really protect me anyway."
The evidence on whether wearing a mask protects you from airborne diseases is mixed. Some studies show it does, some show it doesn't. This is likely because masks widely differ in how well they block unfiltered air - and in the size of particles they let through.
Since particle size varies from one disease to another, this can actually be a crucial point to consider.
However, it's important to remember that the main purpose in wearing masks when out in public right now: It's not to protect us - it's to protect others.
As you know, many people who have the virus show no symptoms. The air they exhale, not to mention their coughs or sneezes, spreads the viruses without them even realizing it.
That's why it's so important that we wear masks - even when we think we're not infected. We all must actually act as if we're virus carriers - because we might be.
Until widespread testing becomes available, there's really no way of knowing.
Think about it this way: Wearing a mask is a minor inconvenience when compared to the suffering someone with COVID-19 could bear. Covering your mouth and nose when outside will stop at least any cough or sneeze from spreading any virus you may have to others, or to an object that could then infect a passerby. One small study from Hong Kong suggests it will even stop smaller pathogens just in your breath.
However, that study did not deal with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, so more definitive studies are needed here.
Then there's the hospital setting. There, evidence is clear that the advanced N95 masks that healthcare workers use do protect from airborne disease. However, the procedures for putting them on and off - to avoid contaminating the inside of the mask - are quite complex. These are too cumbersome for the public to use - the likely reason N95 mask use by the public doesn't show the same benefits.
The bottom line: When you're out in public, wear a mask or a bandana or anything that covers your nose and mouth. It's a selfless act that really helps.
A Look Forward
We're continuing to follow this - and will be circling back to keep bringing clarity to the chaos. So please leave any other myths or misunderstandings you would like cleared up in the comments below.
I'm already investigating the myths and some confusion surrounding the epidemiological models that get quoted. You'll also get the latest on the potential treatments in the works, especially Remdesivir and hydrochloroquine.
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Stay tuned for that.
For now, know that this isn't a pandemic that's going to run its course in a couple of weeks and we'll all be back to normal. Here's what to do now.
For investors: If you hold lots of cash and are worried about missing the big bull run up from here, take heart: There's more volatility - more choppy trading - ahead. And yes, more downside. If you're fully invested, put some hedges in place or have a "get out" point. I'll give you some specific stop levels in my next myth-busting report.
For traders: Expect the volatile intraday and day-to-day moves to continue. Shorter-time-frame trades are key. So have some trades for both the stimulus money pops (like Wednesday) and the bad economic news drops Tuesday and Monday.
I'm still buying "puts" after pops in price on the most vulnerable subsectors - like airlines, hotels, cruise lines and casinos - that are going to have a hard time getting customers to return. Worst of the worst?
On the flip side, use price drops to continue to buy "calls" on or shares of "stay at home" darlings. My favorites are:
- Teledoc Health Inc. (NYSE: TDOC)
- Citrix Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: CTXS)
- com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN)
- And - if you like a really volatile stock to buy on pullbacks - also try Slack Technologies Inc. (NYSE: WORK).
In the meantime, be safe.
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About the Author
D.R. Barton, Jr., Technical Trading Specialist for Money Map Press, is a world-renowned authority on technical trading with 25 years of experience. He spent the first part of his career as a chemical engineer with DuPont. During this time, he researched and developed the trading secrets that led to his first successful research service. Thanks to the wealth he was able to create for himself and his followers, D.R. retired early to pursue his passion for investing and showing fellow investors how to build toward financial freedom.