Facts Matter: Omicron variant is not just the common cold

  • Puseletso Lesofi sequences COVID-19 omicron samples at the Ndlovu Research Center in Elandsdoorn, South Africa on Dec. 8. The center is part of the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa, which discovered the omicron variant.

    Puseletso Lesofi sequences COVID-19 omicron samples at the Ndlovu Research Center in Elandsdoorn, South Africa on Dec. 8. The center is part of the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa, which discovered the omicron variant. AP Photo/Jerome Delay

Updated 12/27/2021 6:49 AM

The omicron variant of COVID-19 has been surging since it was first detected last month, but some social media users are downplaying its severity.

"People catch colds more often during the winter months. Maybe they're just calling the common cold or an RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) infection the omicron variant," read a Dec. 20 Facebook post.


This post, which was flagged by Facebook, is wrong, according to PolitiFact.

"The omicron variant is not the common cold," Kristen Nordlund, spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told PolitiFact.

The common cold can be caused by a variety of viruses and there is no evidence health officials have labeled the seasonal disease a variant of COVID-19, PolitiFact said.

"The suggestion that public health officials are 'just calling the common cold' the omicron variant is totally off the mark," University of Southern California professor Richard Watanabe told PolitiFact.

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He said the coronavirus variants are "genetically distinct" from other viruses, "much like humans and cows are distinctly different."

"The identification of new variants of COVID are confirmed using genetic analysis, so there's no way to confuse the new variant with anything else," Watanabe said.

Santa wasn't arrested for not wearing mask

A man in a Santa Claus suit was arrested earlier this month at a Christmas market in Stralsund, Germany. Some social media accounts, showing video of Santa being taken away, claimed it was because the man refused to wear a mask.

That claim is false, according to The Associated Press. The man in the red suit was detained by police because he refused to show identification during a protest against vaccine mandates. Not because he wasn't wearing a mask.


Nearly 65 people had gathered for an unregistered protest against potential vaccine mandates in Germany when Stralsund police arrived. Officers asked participants for IDs because the unregistered event could be a criminal offense for the organizer, the AP reported.

But a 47-year-old man dressed like Santa refused to comply, according to a police report.

"The police, too, were surprised that Father Christmas wasn't abiding by the law and furthermore expressing his opinion with a placard," the report said.

The man was held "on suspicion of resisting law enforcement officers" and was released later that day after being identified.

Altered cloud photo not from recent storms

Tornadoes ripped through parts of the U.S. earlier this month. A Facebook user posted an eerie photo that supposedly shows a cloud formation during the severe weather.

"My sister Sam Lumley took a picture of this today in lake village Arkansas while I was fixing her roof. Look at the detail of this picture," read a Dec. 10 Facebook post that was shared more than 6,000 times.

But the photo, showing a skeleton head formed in a cloud, is fake and dates back to 2019, according to USA Today.

The altered image is a mashup of a photo of clouds during a 2019 storm in Pennsylvania with a photo from the cover of Iron Maiden's "Brave New World." The heavy metal band's 2000 album features a smiling skull formed by clouds in the sky.

The original photo of the clouds was published May 31, 2019, by The Patriot-News in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and captioned, "Storm clouds as they appeared over Kutztown University on Wednesday."

The manipulated image has been circulating on social media for more than a year.

Aldrin didn't say moon landing was fake

Recent posts on Twitter claim astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, the second man on the moon, has changed his story.

"It's time I confess; The Apollo 11 missions, which landed man for the first time on the moon, was staged, none of it was real," reads a tweet which appears to be from Aldrin. The user who retweeted the post promises an update soon.

But the Nov. 6, 2014, tweet from Aldrin is fake, according to Reuters.

"That tweet is an utter fraud, would never happen. Completely false," Aldrin spokesperson Robert Charles told Reuters.

The screenshot of the fake Aldrin tweet appears in an undated article on the website Huzlers, which describes itself as "a satirical and fictional entertainment blog."

• 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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