Among the lessons Americans have learned from the Covid-19 era is that many products they took for granted are very important, even essential.
Disinfectants, rubber gloves, hand sanitizers, soap—these commodities, so ordinary just a few weeks ago, now save lives on an hourly basis. But crisis times invariably give way to a crop of not-so-benevolent products, the kind sold by opportunists, profiteers or outright hucksters who understand one of the free market’s more sordid truths: When people are scared, they’ll spend money on nearly anything.
Like, say, cures for Covid-19.
Despite social media policing and the government’s best attempts to stamp it out, the internet has been awash in scores of products that, their promoters claim, can prevent people from contracting the virus or cure them if they think they have it. These products come despite public health authorities, including the CDC, having stated that there are no drugs or therapies that will cure Covid-19.
While research teams around the world race to develop a vaccine, there’s plenty of snake oil to be had in the meantime.
“There is already a high level of anxiety over the potential spread of coronavirus,” Federal Trade Commission chairman Joe Simons said last month shortly after his agency sent cease-and-desist letters to seven brands offering purported cures for Covid-19. “What we don’t need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims.”
Bogus treatments began proliferating early last month as the rumor mill churned out no shortage of homespun remedies (ones the World Health Organization debunked on its Myth Busters page), among them that the virus could be nixed by eating garlic, taking a bath, spraying your body with alcohol or standing in front of an ultraviolet lamp.
And while Google started routing all searches related to virus to reputable information sources and platforms like Twitter and Instagram have prohibited advertising for any purported cures, the sheer proliferation of Covid-19 messaging has made it difficult to keep the hokum at bay.
Here are a few of the more colorful—and potentially dangerous—”treatments” that have appeared in recent weeks.
Skinny Beach family resistance packs
San Diego-based Skinny Beach Medical Spa’s stock and trade usually runs to Botox injections, tattoo removal and something called a Vampire Facial. But on April 20, the FBI went after the spa’s founder Jennings Staley for advertising nearly $4,000 “treatment packs” for Covid-19, which included time in an oxygen chamber, “anti-anxiety treatments to help you avoid panic,” zinc, vitamin C and hydroxychloroquine, the much-debated antimalarial drug that has failed to prove its efficacy in controlled studies.
The organization has since stopped selling the resistance packs after spa owner Staley was charged with mail fraud.
Conspiracy theorist and media gadfly Alex Jones (already booted from YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Apple for his hate-filled and sometimes violent rhetoric) took to the web on March 7 and, among other things, touted a range of supplements, creams and even a toothpaste called Superblue as cures for Covid-19. The toothpaste, he said, “kills the whole SARS-Corona family at point-blank range.”
Among those who happened to disagree was New York Attorney General Letitia James, who hit Jones with a cease-and-desist letter. “Alex Jones has spewed outright lies and has profited off New Yorkers’ anxieties,” James said in a statement. “His latest mistruths are incredibly dangerous and pose a serious threat to the public health.”
At last check, the Infowars Store was no longer selling the toothpaste.
Virus Shut Out necklace
Last month, a suspicious shipment called Virus Shut Out from Hong Kong began making its way into the U.S. market via Guam and Hawaii. Apparently, the user wears it around his neck and benefits from its virus-killing power. Unfortunately, not only do necklaces not kill viruses, the Environmental Protection Agency classifies Virus Shut Out as a disinfectant.
The EPA’s Pacific Southwest regional administrator John Busterud said in a statement, “EPA will not tolerate companies selling illegal disinfectants and making false or misleading public health claims during this pandemic crisis.”
At press time, sellers on eBay were still selling the product for as low as $15.