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Beware the coronavirus snake oil salesmen

March 9, 2020, 8:09 PM UTC

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Happy Monday, readers. I hope you had a wonderful weekend.

You may have noticed there’s been a flurry of downright head-spinning news about the coronavirus outbreak over the past week.

It only intensified this weekend as we learned more about the factors undermining America’s response to COVID-19 (a combination of manufacturing issues for some coronavirus tests, a confused hodgepodge of federal and state reactions to the outbreak, and a decided break between what the White House and local public health officials are telegraphing to the country).

The best mantra in my experience tends to be: Prudence is better than panic. But the trouble is that confusion breeds panic—and panic is, in turn, a breeding ground for charlatans and snake oil salesmen.

Don’t take it from me. Here’s the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, Joe Simons, admonishing a number of firms which claim they have products that can treat or prevent coronavirus.

“There already is a high level of anxiety over the potential spread of coronavirus,” said Simons in a joint statement with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pointing directly to seven companies accused of advertising treatments for the virus, which currently has no approved therapies or vaccines.

The agencies went further, vowing future reprisals should the firms not heed the warning. For the record: The accused companies are Vital SilverQuinessence Aromatherapy Ltd.N-ergeticsGuruNanda, LLC, Vivify Holistic ClinicHerbal Amy LLC, and The Jim Bakker Show.

“What we don’t need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims. These warning letters are just the first step,” said the agencies in a statement. “We’re prepared to take enforcement actions against companies that continue to market this type of scam.”

If you’ve ever seen the movie Contagion, you know exactly the kind of people who might be seeking to profit off a public health crisis via means of social media and paranoia. That’s still not a reason to eschew caution—but it’s a reality to keep in mind.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com
@the_sy_guy

DIGITAL HEALTH

CMS releases interoperability rules that it calls "historic." The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have released their latest, and finalized, "interoperability rules" for sharing health data. This is a complicated process that's been long in the works. But to sum it up: The administration is proposing a whole lot of guidance on how public and private medical record providers have to (digitally) speak with each other—including by sharing data that patients may want access to. The proposed final rule will take plenty of time to implement, but it was required by the 21st Century Cures Act of 2016. (CMS)

INDICATIONS

Increasing number of coronavirus cases in Mass. linked to Biogen conference. Biotech giant Biogen finds itself in the midst of a coronavirus brouhaha after Massachusetts health officials announced that at least 15 new presumptive cases of the virus were linked to a Biogen employee conference. (You can head on over to biotech Twitter to witness the combination of caution and freak-out in real time.) Multiple companies including Biogen, Takeda, and others are now asking American employees to ponder telecommuting. (WCVB)

THE BIG PICTURE

How companies are combating coronavirus. So, teleworking can only get you so far. What happens next? How does a company prepare for the return of employees following a viral threat? My colleague Anne Sraders delves into the issue and the measures firms are taking—including deep cleans, requests for workers' health histories, and even setting up "disaster recovery sites." (Fortune)

REQUIRED READING

What are the odds the stock market will get back to even this yearby Shawn Tully

Why women in Mexico are planning a nation-wide strikeby Claire Zillman

Several lawmakers has contact with individual who got COVID-19by The Associated Press

Why curing HIV and sickle cell could fall far shortby Francis Collins

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