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After U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s recent statement that COVID-19 misinformation is costing lives, the Rock County Public Health Department is urging residents to review and verify COVID-19 information before reposting it on social media.

The call to stop the wave of COVID-19 misinformation that has proliferated since the pandemic began in March 2020 comes as Rock County officials announced that the delta variant of the virus, which is known to be more contagious, is present in Rock County.

While case numbers remain low, Rock County epidemiologist Nick Zupan said the county is monitoring a slight increase in the average number of cases to about six new COVID-19 infections each day. In total, 16,510 cases and 184 deaths have been reported in Rock County, state Department of Health Services data shows.

Through gene sequencing done by DHS, a total of three delta variant COVID-19 cases have been identified in Rock County. Zupan said genomic sequencing is not done for all positive cases, which places the health department at a disadvantage for tracking the spread of the variant that has spread rapidly this summer across the country.

“It’s likely we could see an increase due to the variant, and it could lead to more cases of severe illness,” Zupan said. “We will be monitoring the situation going forward. We don’t know the full extent, but it is reasonable to assume there are more than the three cases currently identified.”

The COVID-19 vaccines offered by pharmaceutical companies Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson are known to prevent severe cases of COVID-19 and provide protection against the delta variant, Zupan said.

A total of 45 breakthrough infections of fully vaccinated Rock County residents have been reported, health department data shows. Health officials said this number is a small fraction of overall infections, which Zupan and other health department staff say is a strong signal that the vaccinations are effective.

Health department modeling over the next three weeks does not show “an overwhelming spread” of COVID-19, Zupan added.

During a media briefing Thursday, Rock County Public Health Department Administrative Services supervisor Seth Loncar urged residents to carefully consider information found online and verify the accuracy of a given statement or image with the CDC, DHS or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“If you are unsure of a source, don’t share it,” Loncar said.

To prevent arguments or confrontation, Loncar suggested residents first try to talk with people with opposing views to ask questions and attempt to understand their perspective before launching into an argument that won’t resolve the issue.

Using resources like DearPandemic.org, a website run by a team of medical professionals, can also help residents seek out clear and unbiased information.

Earlier this week, the U.S. surgeon general’s office issued a warning regarding misinformation, with the Center for Countering Digital Hate finding that 12 groups accounted for nearly 75% of all vaccine misinformation on Facebook.

“In recent years, misinformation has spread at an unprecedented speed and scale online,” Loncar said.

In terms of vaccinations, just over 50% of Rock County residents have received one dose and just over 47% of residents have completed vaccination, DHS data shows. Variant data shows 101 cases of the delta variant had been identified in Wisconsin.

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