Facts Matter: Positive coronavirus news is great, but not when it's false

Updated 4/4/2020 5:32 PM

A list of positive claims regarding the coronavirus pandemic recently circulated on social media.

The Poynter Institute's fact-checking team scrutinized the list and, as writer Thea Barrett said, "We're all in need of some good news. But what we're in need of more than good news, is real good news."


Some claims were legitimate, including news that China has closed temporary hospitals as the rate of infections has slowed, all Apple retail stores in China have reopened and a 103-year-old Chinese grandmother made a full recovery after being infected with COVID-19.

But not all the good news was real. Claims that Italy had more infections than other countries because of its high number of elderly citizens and that people in India have been treated and cured could not be verified.

National Guard isn't moving in equipment

A video of a train transporting military equipment outside Chicago was falsely identified on social media as the National Guard moving into the city to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, according to The Associated Press.

The video appeared among false rumors that martial law was being declared in the area, the AP said. The military equipment loaded on the train was making its way from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to the Fort Bragg army installation in North Carolina, according to the Department of Defense.

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Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said on Twitter, "These deliveries by train to our bases nationwide are not infrequent and have nothing to do with COVID-19."

One Twitter user's post of the video, viewed more than 100,000 times, included the comment, "Welcome the National Guard to #Chicago. There goes the neighborhood."

The Illinois National Guard replied, "The only troops we are sending to the Chicago area is a small contingent of medical personnel -- doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, medical technicians."

Other Twitter users responded with video of military vehicles moving through the area as far back as 2011, showing other times equipment was transported, according to NBC News.


"Please remember, the National Guard is a community-based organization. We are your neighbors, your friends, your relatives, your co-workers -- we are you. We're all in this together and we'll get through it together," the group said.

Infected children won't be taken from parent

A recent Facebook post claims children with COVID-19 will be taken to the hospital in a van, with people they don't know, and parents will not be able to be with them. This "soul-crushing statement" is false, according to PolitiFact.com. Hospitals need a parent's consent to treat a child, Oregon physician Dr. John Gilliam told PolitiFact.

"Minors can't consent to treatment, legally," he said.

Although many hospitals have recently issued policies stating an adult recovering from the coronavirus isn't allowed to have visitors, "children are still allowed to have one guardian accompany them," PolitiFact said.

Coronavirus not created to distract from asteroid

A recent Facebook post, signed by "retired CIA agent Scott W.," claims an asteroid is set to hit the earth and wipe out civilization, according to Snopes.com. Opening with "The world deserved the truth," the post says world leaders held a secret meeting on Nov. 9, 2019, at the United Nations to implement a scapegoat virus, or COVID-19, in order to hide the truth about the asteroid and force a worldwide quarantine to make people spend time with their families. "This post, in a word, is nonsense," Snopes said.

Asteroid 52768 (1998 OR2), which was discovered in 1998, is between 1.1 and 2.5 miles in diameter and will be traveling at 20,000 mph when it passes Earth. At that time it will be 3.9 million miles away. Some false headlines have claimed there was a danger of it hitting the planet, prompting NASA to issue a statement that the asteroid will "safely pass Earth" on April 29.

The recent social media post ties the previous false information to new false information about the coronavirus.

The post claims world leaders planned the disease together, but the global response has been anything but unanimous, Snopes said. The shelter-in-place order has done more to separate families than bring them together. And during the time they were supposedly at the 2019 secret meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was celebrating the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and President Donald Trump was at a college football game in Louisiana.

• Bob Oswald is a veteran Chicago-area journalist and former news editor of the Elgin Courier-News. Contact him at boboswald33@gmail.com.

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