NOT REAL NEWS: Debunking yet more false coronavirus content
A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:
CLAIM: Nancy Pelosi snuck $25 million worth of pay raises for Congress into the federal relief bill intended to help Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic.
THE FACTS: A proposal in the economic rescue package sets aside $25 million for the House of Representatives but “none of those funds will go to member salaries,” Evan Hollander, the communications director for the House Appropriations Committee, told The Associated Press. After the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a $2.2 trillion economic rescue package late Wednesday night (it was signed into law Friday), social media users began inaccurately claiming that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had secretly stuck in $25 million worth of congressional pay raises. That was not the case. The $25 million appropriation for “salary and expenses” in the House of Representatives was proposed in both versions of the relief package — a GOP-backed proposal earlier in the week and the plan passed by the U.S. Senate Wednesday. The money will be used to buy new equipment and make upgrades to the network so members and their staff can work remotely, Hollander said. It will also be spent on reimbursing costs of the child care center and food service contracts for the House, as well as paying for the House Sergeant-at-Arms, he added. Congressional pay can be raised annually based on a federal cost-of-living formula. However, Congress has voted to reject those increases since 2009, keeping their salaries frozen at $174,000 for a decade.
CLAIM: Breathing the steam from a mixture of boiling water, salt and orange peel will prevent or cure the new coronavirus.
THE FACTS: Steam may help sooth symptoms of the virus, but it will not prevent or cure it. In photo and video posts circulating widely on Facebook and Twitter, people can be seen standing over a pot of boiling water filled with the mixture as they breathe in the steam. In some cases, other items have been added, from chopped onion to aromatic oils. Variations of the videos received thousands of views on social media. “Steam Sea Salt and Orange peelings. Inhale the steam for 15 minutes. It Suppose to Prevent Corona Virus from entering the body. Seen it on social media and yes I’m doing it,“ said one Facebook post featuring a picture of the mixture. Inhaling steam can provide relief from the symptoms of the virus, such as soothing the mucus membranes of the nose or the back of the throat, experts say, but it will not kill the virus. “Those modalities can be helpful, but I don’t think they should be looked at as cures or as treating the underlying virus,” said Dr. Albert Rizzo, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association. Posts online suggested that heat from the steam would also kill the virus, which experts have warned against, especially if a person chooses to stand over a pot of boiling water on the stove. Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, cautioned against the practice. “A little warm moisture is not going to hurt these viruses,” he said. “People need to be very, very careful about this. You can have all kinds of misadventures if you are leaning over a pot of boiling water.”
CLAIM: If a child gets the new coronavirus and needs to be hospitalized, they will be separated from their parents and the parents will not have the chance to see them again.
THE FACTS: Hospitals are limiting visitors, but hospital officials say they are allowing one parent to remain with a child. As the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. grew this week, posts were shared widely on Facebook and Twitter suggesting parents would be barred from staying with a child hospitalized with the virus. While hospitals are limiting visitors for known or suspected coronavirus patients, hospital officials say one parent can remain with children admitted for the virus. An American Hospital Association spokesperson said that to the best of their knowledge, hospitals are allowing one parent to be with a child during hospitalization or assessing each case individually to determine the safest option. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, each hospital has their own infection and control policies but the hospitals they have spoken with are allowing one parent to be with the child. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that hospitals limit visitors for patients with the virus and encourages hospitals to use alternate mechanisms for patient and visitor interactions such as video call applications. If visits must occur, the CDC says that facilities must evaluate the risk of the health of the visitor and provide instruction on hygiene upon entering the patient’s room. At the Children’s Hospital in Colorado, parents are allowed in the room but they must remain there to prevent the spread to the hospital.
CLAIM: Video shows a train moving National Guard vehicles into Chicago.
THE FACTS: Video of a train carrying military vehicles with the Chicago skyline in the background has been circulating on social media falsely identified as showing the National Guard arriving in the city amid the coronavirus pandemic. “Welcome the National Guard to #Chicago. There goes the neighborhood…” stated one post viewed more than 100,000 times. The National Guard in Illinois said the vehicles do not belong to them, nor is the video related to their response to COVID-19. According to the Department of Defense, the video shows military equipment being moved from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. “To confirm what others have pointed out: these are new Joint Light Tactical Vehicles being transported by @USArmy Materiel Command from the factory in Oshkosh to Fort Bragg, NC. These deliveries by train to our bases nationwide are not infrequent and have nothing to do w COVID-19,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman tweeted on March 21. Posts misidentifying the video surfaced about March 19, as coronavirus cases spread rapidly across the U.S., and amid rumors that martial law was being declared in some areas. There are currently no plans for a national quarantine and martial law, according to AP reporting. Bryan Spreitzer, a public affairs officer at the Illinois National Guard, said on Thursday there were 160 guard members providing COVID-19 assistance in Illinois. They are distributing equipment, conducting planning, and providing medical support, mission analysis and testing.
CLAIM: Helicopters are being used to spray disinfectant over neighborhoods to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
THE FACTS: Officials have called the claim not only false, but dangerous to spread. It began circulating in the New York last weekend, but it has also been knocked down in other countries, including India, Mexico and Switzerland. New York used its official emergency notification system last week to address rumors that parts of Brooklyn were scheduled to be sprayed, and New York Council Speaker Corey Johnson tweeted Sunday to warn residents about the rumors. “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. Dan Sweet, a spokesperson for the Helicopter Association International, told the AP that his organization is not aware of any helicopter dispersing disinfectants to combat the coronavirus. “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.”
CLAIM: During a March 25, 2020, Fox & Friends appearance, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan said: “I’m not too concerned about the Chinese virus. This is the worst economic crisis we’ve seen in 200 years. We’ve got to end the ridiculous ‘shelter in place’ orders. I’ve spoken to many senior citizens and they’re willing to take the risk and go back to work. If a few senior citizens die, I can live with that. Plus we won’t have to pay them their social security ‘handout.’”
THE FACTS: Jordan didn’t appear on Fox & Friends on March 25 or make that statement, his spokesman confirmed. Social media users are passing around a meme that attributes a fictitious quote during a made-up television appearance to the firebrand conservative from Ohio. Video records and transcripts show Jordan didn’t appear on Fox & Friends Wednesday, while Congress hammered out details in a $2.2 trillion deal to assuage American’s economic woes during the global coronavirus pandemic. Jordan’s last appearance on the show was March 5, when he discussed controversial comments Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer made about conservative Supreme Court justices. “Congressman Jordan was not on Fox & Friends and did not say the quote in question,” Ian Fury, a spokesman for Jordan, told The Associated Press in an email.
CLAIM: A coronavirus vaccine, which is able to cure patients within three hours of injection, is ready for use. Trump will announce that the Roche medical company will launch the vaccine next Sunday with a million doses ready from it.
THE FACTS: A photo circulating on social media with the false claim shows a coronavirus testing kit made by a South Korean manufacturer, not a vaccine. A vaccine to prevent the coronavirus is in the works, but experts say nothing is expected for use for more than a year. Posts with the false claim and photo have surfaced on WhatsApp and Facebook as the world anxiously waits for a coronavirus vaccine. The testing kits shown in the posts are made by Sugentech, a South Korean medical diagnostics company, which says it can provide test results within 10 minutes of testing. Researchers around the world have been working nonstop to develop a viable vaccine for the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 300,000 people worldwide. But experts have said that a vaccine for the virus would be not available for widespread use for at least 12 to 18 months. The false post makes reference to a vaccine that was developed in three hours. Earlier this month, Inovio Pharmaceuticals announced that they had developed a vaccine for the virus within three hours after China released the genetic sequence of the virus. The company plans to begin safety studies for the vaccine next month.
CLAIM: Los Angeles police are doing “spot checks” and ticketing people for nonessential travel during the coronavirus epidemic.
THE FACTS: Officials in Los Angeles, Los Angeles County and Santa Monica say no “spot checks” are being conducted to find people violating stay-in-place orders issued to address the spread of COVID-19, and no fines have been issued. On Wednesday a claim was posted on Twitter warning that police in Los Angeles were doing spot checks and giving people $400 tickets for nonessential travel. “Just happened to a friend of my coworker’s coming back from her boyfriend’s place,” stated one tweet that was shared more than 12,000 times. Los Angeles police responded to the post from their official account Wednesday asking the person to have the co-worker reach out through a direct message with more details. On Thursday, the Twitter user, whose bio says she is a comedian, clarified her tweet to say the fines were happening in Santa Monica, not Los Angeles. “My coworkers got tickets in Santa Monica, where city officers are definitely giving fines. This is not the LAPD. It’s Santa Monica,” the tweet said. The AP reached out for comment, but did not receive a response. Constance Farrell, a public affairs officer with the Santa Monica Police Department, confirmed to the AP in an email that they are not issuing such fines. “We have a local order that includes standard language that gives law enforcement broad authority, but given the current situation, people have a right to get exercise, go to essential jobs and perform necessary errands,” Farrell said. “Our compliance efforts are focused on enforcing specific violations of the State and County orders, such as businesses that should be closed.” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore on Thursday responded to online rumors about such stops, tweeting: “Let’s be clear: The men and women of the LAPD have not been directed to, and are not out conducting ‘fishing expeditions’ in an effort to cite individuals traveling on city streets related to the Safer At Home Order. That being said, it is imperative that the order is followed.” The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department also confirmed to the AP that no checks are being conducted. “I don’t know why that rumor is going around. Our agency is not doing that at all whatsoever. Nobody has been doing spot checks when it comes to that,” Deputy Ed Luna, a spokesman with the sheriff’s department told the AP in a phone call. On March 19, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a “Safer at Home” order to limit the spread of coronavirus. The order requires that people stay home and isolate, but a number of essential activities are allowed.
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.
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