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Helicopters not spraying disinfectant over neighborhoods to stop virus

March 23, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: Helicopters are being used to spray disinfectant over neighborhoods to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Officials have called the claim false and dangerous to spread. The false claim has also been knocked down in other countries as it circulated on social media around the globe as the virus spread.

THE FACTS: A false claim that has been shared in India, Mexico and Switzerland is now being spread in the U.S. 

New York City officials addressed the false claim over the weekend. New York City used its official emergency notification system Saturday to knock down rumors that parts of Brooklyn were scheduled to be sprayed, and New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson tweeted Sunday to warn residents about the rumors. 

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 “This is NOT TRUE!” he tweeted. “Rumors like this only fuel panic. Stay safe, be smart, and don’t spread misinformation.”

The texts warned people to shut their windows and doors because helicopters would be spraying disinfectant to eradicate the virus after 11:00 p.m. and urged people to share the information with all their contacts. 

One Facebook post circulated the claim as a public service announcement: “Please be in by 11:40 pm March 22, 2020!!! There will be helicopters “spraying disinfectant” to kill all germs‼️‼️ YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE OUT AND INHALE THIS‼️‼️ #PleaseTakeHeed #PleaseShare.”

The Federal Aviation Administration told the AP in an email that they do not comment on rumors.

Dan Sweet, a spokesperson for the Helicopter Association International, told The Associated Press that his organization is not aware of any helicopter dispersing disinfectants to combat the coronavirus. 

“I am certain this claim is inaccurate,” he said in an email. “I believe it is borne out of the meme that floated around last week, showing a firefighting helicopter dumping water, and someone had badly Photoshopped a Lysol label on the side of it.” 

The false claim about the helicopters was shared overseas on WhatsApp and via text message. Mexico’s Ministry of National Defense confirmed to the AP last week that the claim circulating in Mexico about the helicopters was false. 

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The U.S. has reported more than 35,000 cases of the virus and over 400 deaths. More than 300,000 people have been infected globally.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536