Coronavirus Social: Virtual Conference, COVID-19 TikTok, DIY Masks

Liz Neporent

March 19, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's  Coronavirus Resource Center.

COVID-19 is dominating the conversation among clinicians on social media, and Medscape is listening. We're following discussions and educational posts about the coronavirus on multiple social platforms and highlighting the ones we think you need to know about.

Virtual meetings, TikTok, and do-it-yourself (DIY) masks are three of the biggest online discussions we're following today. 

A Medical Conference Goes Digital

As some medical societies wrestle with the decision to reschedule or scrap their event entirely, The American College of Cardiology, at least, has opted to hold a virtual meeting. On Wednesday, more than 10,000 viewers tuned into a pre-meeting session on COVID-19 suggesting that perhaps this pandemic will be the impetus for more medical conferences to trade in a crowded expo floor for a video screen.

The free "ACC.20/WCC Virtual" experience officially kicks off Saturday, March 28 from the @ACCintouch account and features 3 days of science and learning as well as "live" access to 23 education sessions, including Late Breaking Clinical Trials and Featured Clinical Research.

Medical conferences began canceling in late January when it became apparent that travel and gathering in large groups would risk the health and safety of thousands in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic. To date, at least 50 events have been called off or postponed.

A Coronavirus Video Goes Viral

You may think of the social network TikTok as the place where teens and tweens go to post their 15-second amateur music videos, but increasingly clinicians are turning to the app to help educate their patients on crucial healthcare topics.

Austin Chaing, MD, MPH, the director of endoscopic bariatrics and the chief social media officer at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, posted a TikTok earlier this week to underscore the importance of cleanliness by showing how long coronavirus may stay active on various surfaces. Since yesterday, the video has tallied over 2.4 million views.

“I strongly believe that there is still a need for simple but accurate messaging to the general public,” Chaing, who has more than 110,000 TikTok followers, told Medscape Medical News. “We might have to get creative like reformatting published findings from the New England Journal of Medicine into a skit or dance to do that for something as complex and uncertain as the current coronavirus epidemic.”

Masks of Last Resort

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now advising US clinicians to reuse masks or improvise do-it-yourself protection using bandanas and scarves as a last resort if the hospital supply of N95 masks is depleted and the number of COVID-19 patients reaches "crisis capacity." These recommendations are out of step with usual standards of care, the agency acknowledges.

Clinicians have been lamenting for weeks on social media about a mask shortage, which some say has been largely driven by consumers snapping up available supplies. Even before the CDC statement, physicians, nurses, and others began posting YouTube video explainers on how to craft do-it-yourself masks from common household items or with a sewing machine that have racked up hundreds of thousands of views. 

On Twitter, a few physicians say they've been told not to speak publicly about the growing shortages of masks and other supplies in their hospitals. If your hospital or practice has placed a gag order on speaking up about a scarcity of medical supplies, please send a message to our secure, confidential tip line.

Liz Neporent is Medscape's executive editor of social media and community. She has previously worked at ABC News National as well as other major news outlets. She's based in New York City and can be reached at or @lizzyfit on Twitter.

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