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Study did not find 1,500 positive COVID tests were actually flu

April 30, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Scientists, including researchers from seven universities, found that 1,500 laboratory samples that had supposedly tested positive for COVID-19 were actually positive for influenza, proving that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention committed fraud.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The claim, which has circulated before with slightly different information, is fabricated. There is no evidence of such a study, and the identity of the scientist said to have led the investigation cannot be confirmed.

THE FACTS: Social media users are recirculating a debunked claim about COVID-19 lab samples testing positive for flu. The claim makes the false assertion that seven universities, including the University of California, Cornell University and Stanford University, participated in a study that found samples from positive COVID-19 tests were actually influenza.

“These claims have been proven to be false and a hoax,” the University of California said in a statement. “COVID-19 is a disease that has killed more than half a million people in the United States alone.”

Experts say it is virtually impossible to envision any scenario where this kind of mix up in a molecular test would happen.

“To say that a SARS test is just detecting influenza or vice versa is impossible,” said Andrew Pekosz, a virologist and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “We have never seen influenza behave like we are seeing now with COVID-19. It’s a completely different disease.”

The claim has been online since December and was previously falsely attributed to a Cornell professor who has no link to any study of this nature.

The claim has been repurposed to spread the falsehood that the pandemic is a hoax. A conspiracy website, The Great Reject, is the latest to include the claim in a story titled, “Laboratories in US can’t find Covid-19 in one of 1,500 positive tests.”

The website has previously posted articles that support the false conspiracy theory that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 does not exist. Attempts to reach the website were unsuccessful.

The website ties the false information about the tests to Dr. Derick Knauss or Derek Knauss who was identified by the site as being affiliated with a California laboratory. But the AP could find no record of someone with that name and expertise at an academic institution or laboratory in that state. Nor is there evidence of the study in any peer-reviewed publications.

In December, social media users shared a false post claiming that Robert Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at Cornell University, had tested 1,500 positive samples of COVID-19 and found influenza A and influenza B instead.

Oswald, who does not study viruses, addressed the false posts several times on his website.

“COVID-19 is real,” he wrote on his website. “Any Facebook post that suggests otherwise is a hoax and is not true. Wear a mask, practice social distancing, and get the vaccine when it becomes available.”

According to Johns Hopkins University over the course of the pandemic, there have been 32, 315,363 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. since and 575,551 deaths.

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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