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Steve Wozniak’s viral tweet shows how quickly coronavirus misinformation spreads

Those who follow Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak on Twitter are typically privy to updates on his travels or his musings on technology and food. So it may have come as a bit of a shock when he suggested on Monday that his wife, Janet Hill, may have been the one to bring the Covid-19 coronavirus to the United States.

Checking out Janet’s bad cough. Started Jan. 4. We had just returned from China and may have both been patient zero in U.S. (@ West Coast Sports Institute in Santa Clara, CA)

— Steve Wozniak (@stevewoz) March 2, 2020

Wozniak posted the tweet on Monday afternoon, saying, “Checking out Janet’s bad cough. Started Jan. 4. We had just returned from China and may have both been patient zero in U.S.” Wozniak had made a post January 22 stating that he and Janet were getting over an illness after their trip to Asia.

Shortly afterward, USA Today’s Jessica Guynn tweeted that Janet told the publication it was simply a sinus infection.

False alarm it appears: Janet tells USA TODAY she has a sinus infection

— Jessica Guynn (@jguynn) March 2, 2020

Whether Wozniak’s tweet was out of worry or a simple desire to sow mischief on Twitter, it’s a good reminder that misinformation about the coronavirus spreads quickly.

The coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan, a city in China’s Hubei province, in late 2019. The Chinese government alerted the World Health Organization on December 31. In the months since, it has spread to numerous countries, particularly in Asia and Europe.

According to WHO’s latest situation report, there are more than 88,000 cases of the coronavirus worldwide, and more than 3,000 deaths, the vast majority of those in China. The outbreak has had a severe impact on manufacturing in China, as factories close and workers stay home due to fears or quarantines. Given that so much of the tech industry relies on Chinese factories for components, the economic ripples have been felt around the world, as companies like Apple brace for shortages of parts.

As the outbreak has spread to other countries, fears about the virus have led to the cancellation or reduced attendance of several major tech events, including Mobile World Congress, Facebook’s F8 conference, the Game Developers Conference (GDC), and the Geneva Motor Show.

The most recent risk assessment by the Centers for Disease Control states that “most people in the United States will have little immediate risk of exposure to this virus. This virus is NOT currently spreading widely in the United States. However, it is important to note that current global circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic.”

This is a developing story. We will update as more information becomes available.

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