(USA/ICNIRP) — The coronavirus pandemic and its ongoing consequences have given us all plenty to think about and worry about. But there’s one thing you can permanently take off your concern list: 5G has no causal connection to COVID-19, contrary to several recent misguided online rumors.
In fact, according to a seven-year-long scientific study published this month, 5G has no detrimental health effects in general.
But it’s worth examining why 5G can’t possibly be related to the coronavirus from a scientific and factual perspective and why it isn’t a health concern in general. Plus, along the way, you might learn a little bit more about how 5G and cellphones work.
As with many other conspiracy theories, the supposed 5G coronavirus connection came from uninformed people on the internet trying to link things that are not at all connected.
Unfortunately, the power of social media recently amplified some of these misguided comments to a level that swayed even otherwise rational people to start wondering whether the comments might be true.
They’re not, and I’ll explain why. But first, a bit more background.
Coronavirus and 5G: The beginning
The COVID-19 coronavirus is widely reported to have originated at a market in the city of Wuhan in China, likely around December of last year. China also happened to have turned on some of its first 5G networks around November of last year, so somehow, people, especially those who fear new technology and/or do not understand it, thought that there must have been some kind of causal relationship between the introduction of 5G and the inception of the new virus.
In addition to all kinds of logical fallacies and other weaknesses that can be found in that argument, there are numerous factual issues that should be addressed.
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5G comes in different types
First, it’s important to remember that not all 5G radio signals are the same.
The two basic types are referred to as “sub-6 GHz” (so named because the radio frequencies that it uses are all under, or sub, 6 GHz) and “millimeter wave”, which are 24 GHz and higher (the name comes from the fact that individual radio wavelengths can be measured in millimeters). The only type of 5G radio signals now being used on 5G networks in China are the sub-6 GHz variety.
The thing is, we’ve been using sub-6 GHz radio signals all over the world for years for a huge number of applications with no impact. All existing 4G cell networks use signals in this range, for example, and so does Wi-Fi (remember, it operates at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) and your home microwave oven.
So, if those signals could cause some sort of metabolic change in animals or people, as the conspiracy theorists have tried to argue, we would all have experienced their impact a long time ago. We haven’t because at the signal strength that all these systems use, there has been no measurable negative connection established between these signals and our health, and there is no way that they could have triggered something that would have created the coronavirus.
Where did the conspiracy come from?
Many of these arguments trace back to the discussions that pop up every few years about the potential health impact of using cellphones at all.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization web sites, ongoing studies have yet to provide any clear link between what’s called non-ionizing radiation that all forms of radio signals generate – everything from cellphones to TV transmissions to traditional radio signals – and human health.
(FYI, non-ionizing radiation is a form that doesn’t have the potential to cause atomic-level changes to cells as, for example, X-rays or other more serious forms of radiation can if you are exposed to them for long periods of time.)
To be fair, these health organizations also don’t completely rule out the possibility of non-ionizing radiation having some impact on human health, saying simply that more science still needs to be done on long-term exposure to it. However, virtually all of their caution relates to the possibility of causing cancer after years (or even decades) of usage – not just a few months.
What does the science say?
In the latest scientific study, from the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection – an organization that the WHO specifically refers to on its website with regard to overall RF frequency-related health matters – they concluded that health-related concerns for 5G overall are not a threat.
Specifically, they pointed out that if the signal levels being generated remain below their suggested settings, which all current devices and networks do, that public health impacts are not a concern. In fact, tests have shown that some networks in the UK function at less than 1% of the organization’s recommended levels.
Interestingly, there were absolutely no concerns mentioned for sub-6 GHz 5G signals in the ICNIRP report.
The only additions that were made in the 2020 version of the report over the original 1998 version were comments about exposure to frequencies above 6 GHz, including millimeter wave. Even here, however, the revisions merely suggest limiting long-term exposure to high-strength signals in these upper frequencies.
How 5G waves work
As luck would have it, the physics of millimeter wave signals inherently limits the distance they can travel before they dissipate into “nothingness” (for more on the details of how 5G works see “5G could change everything. Here’s what you need to know before you buy into the tech”).
That’s why, for example, the coverage maps for millimeter wave-based 5G service, that carriers like Verizon have, are so limited. Instead of a single cell tower providing miles and miles of signal coverage as you can with sub-6 GHz signals, mmWave requires small cell towers roughly every block and, oh yeah, those signals can’t pass through walls into buildings.
The bottom line is, short of swallowing or embedding a 5G mmWave transmitter into your body and letting it run for a long time, you’re safe.
In an era when scary health-related concerns have become all too real, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everything is a potential threat.
Thankfully, as we’ve started to learn with COVID-19, real science facts can come to the rescue, and in the case of 5G, facts prove that it’s not worth worrying about.