NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week

World

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, speaks with guests after U.S. President Joe Biden delivered remarks to commemorate World AIDS Day at the White House on December 01, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

(AP) – 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:

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NY lawmakers aren’t voting on bill to detain the unvaccinated

CLAIM: New York lawmakers will vote Jan. 5 on a bill that would allow for the “indefinite detention of the unvaccinated.”

THE FACTS: The claim is misrepresenting a bill, first introduced in the New York state legislature in 2015, that would allow for the temporary detention of individuals infected, or suspected of being infected, with a contagious disease during a public health emergency. The state Assembly’s health committee has no plans to take action on the bill, and its sponsor, Assemblyman N. Nick Perry, now says he will withdraw it. While the proposal failed to find support among lawmakers, it is still causing a stir online. In recent days, social media users have pushed a claim that lawmakers are planning to vote on the bill as soon as Jan. 5 — and that it would allow for the “indefinite detention” of people who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19. But no such vote on the bill in question was slated for that day, which is actually just the start of the legislative session. Citing “concocted stories” online about the bill, Perry, its sponsor, tweeted Monday that he would take “legislative action to strike the bill, remove it from the calendar, thus ending all consideration, and actions that could lead to passage into law.” The bill proposed allowing the state to temporarily detain someone carrying or suspected to be carrying a contagious disease — or someone they came into contact with — in a “medical facility or other appropriate facility.” The bill also said such a person “shall not continue to be detained” after they are determined to be no longer contagious. It also included a provision to require the state to seek a court order if a person was to be held for more than three days. Frank Shea, a spokesman for Perry, told The Associated Press that the bill was first proposed in 2015 after a nurse defied quarantine after treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. Shea said that while Perry reintroduced the bill year after year, he had not actively pushed for the legislation and said it would be withdrawn because it had become a “distraction.” The most recent introduction came in January 2021, when it was referred to the Assembly’s Committee on Health. There was no other action on it. Before Perry announced Monday that he would withdraw the bill, the office of Assemblyman Richard Gottfried — the chair of the Committee on Health — also said in a statement to the AP that there were no plans to vote on it. “This bill has been introduced every year since 2015, has never been taken up by the Committee, has not been cosponsored by other legislators, and has not had a companion bill in the Senate,” the statement said. “The Committee does not plan to put the bill on an agenda.”

— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed this report.

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Posts misrepresent Washington University study on COVID-19 immunity

CLAIM: Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis released data showing that if you have had COVID-19, even a mild case, you are likely protected from the virus for life.

THE FACTS: The researchers found that people who have recovered from COVID-19 have bone marrow cells that can create antibodies for decades, but that doesn’t mean those individuals will be immune to new variants of the virus. As the highly contagious omicron variant quickly became the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S., a misleading article and several social media posts falsely claimed that people who have had COVID-19 before are immune for the rest of their lives. “If you’ve had COVID-19, even a mild case, major congratulations to you as you’ve more than likely got long-term immunity,” read an article published Tuesday on the news site The Epoch Times. “In fact, you’re likely to be immune for life, as is the case with recovery from many infectious agents — once you’ve had the disease and recovered, you’re immune, most likely for life.” However, the posts misrepresent the research they cite — a study published in May in the journal Nature — according to study co-author Dr. Ali Ellebedy, who teaches pathology and immunology at Washington University’s medical school. The study examined the blood and bone marrow of people who had experienced mild COVID-19 infections and found long-lived antibody-producing cells, evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 would likely create antibodies against it for a long time. Still, the study “does NOT show nor claim that people recovering from mild SARS-CoV-2 infection are protected for life,” Ellebedy said in an email. “Epidemiological data clearly show that people recovered from earlier infection can be infected especially with emerging variants of concerns like Delta and Omicron.” Ellebedy explained that having detectable antibody response for a lifetime doesn’t necessarily mean being protected from the virus for a lifetime. “Not all antibodies are protective especially if the virus they are raised against is constantly changing,” Ellebedy said. A prior infection doesn’t seem to offer much protection against an omicron infection although, like with vaccination, it may reduce the chances of severe illness. Scientists in South Africa and Britain have found that reinfections among people who have battled COVID-19 appear more likely with omicron than with earlier mutants of the virus, including delta. The Epoch Times did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.

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Scientists identify COVID variants through sequencing, not symptoms

CLAIM: The illness that scientists are labeling the omicron variant of COVID-19 may actually just be the common cold or the respiratory syncytial virus, both of which appear more often in the winter months.

THE FACTS: Despite posts claiming scientists are “just calling the common cold or an RSV infection the omicron variant,” no one is just putting a new scientific name on a cold. Scientists have identified the omicron variant through precise genetic sequencing, not simply by noticing cold-like symptoms. By sequencing the genome of the coronavirus in a respiratory sample from someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, scientists can pinpoint the ways in which the virus has mutated. That’s how they know when a new coronavirus variant is spreading in the population, as opposed to a previous strain. “Every bacteria and virus has specific genetic markers,” said Dr. Anita Gupta, a professor and anesthesiologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Scientists, she added, look for those genetic markers when they sequence the viral genome, “and that’s how they’re able to identify which type of variant they have.” The post also ignores that COVID-19 diagnostic tests do more than just confirm you are sick: They are designed specifically to identify the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Whether you use a PCR test, which looks for genetic material from the virus, or a rapid test, which looks for proteins on the surface of the virus, a COVID-19 test identifies that the virus that causes COVID-19 was found inside your body. COVID-19 tests are designed to register as positive only in the presence of SARS-CoV-2, not other viruses, Gupta explained.

— Ali Swenson

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Fauci’s sister did not publish book about the omicron variant

CLAIM: Fauci’s sister “Angelique Fauci” published a book on the omicron variant of the coronavirus the same week it was discovered.

THE FACTS: The self-published e-book, which Amazon removed from the website, was not written by Dr. Anthony Fauci’s sister. Fauci, head of the National Institute of Health and Infectious Diseases, only has one sibling. Her name is Denise Scorce. Social media users shared a screenshot of the e-book titled “Omicron and the Other COVID-19 Variants: All You Need to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines & Variants″ by “Dr. Angelique Fauci” with false claims about its author. “How did Fauci’s sister publish a book on Omicron in the same week Omicron was supposedly ‘discovered’?! #Plandemic #Omicron,” one Twitter user wrote. A National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases spokesperson confirmed in an email to The Associated Press that Dr. Fauci’s sister did not write a book about the omicron variant. His sister was mentioned in a 2007 tribute to Fauci. The 17-page Kindle edition was published on Nov. 26 — the same day the World Health Organization designated omicron a variant of concern — can no longer be purchased on Amazon. An Amazon spokesperson said the book was removed for violating content guidelines but provided no further details. The book’s synopsis contained multiple punctuation, capitalization and word choice errors. Multiple self-published books about the omicron variant appeared on Amazon in recent weeks. Books can be published on Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing in minutes. According to the website, “Publishing takes less than 5 minutes and your book appears on Kindle stores worldwide within 24-48 hours” and changes can be made to the books at “any time.” Amazon’s content guidelines note that self-published books can be pulled for being incomplete, including content that “disappoints our customers,” is poorly translated or is already freely available online.

— Associated Press writer Arijeta Lajka in New York contributed this report.

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No COVID-19 vaccines stored in building that caught fire in Italy

CLAIM: A video shows a fire at a military warehouse in Italy that was storing COVID-19 vaccines. The fire occurred on the date members of law enforcement had to be vaccinated.

THE FACTS: A fire did break out at an Italian paramilitary police barracks on Dec. 15, the vaccination deadline, but there were no COVID-19 vaccines on site as some online posts falsely claimed. Social media users shared a video showing a fire consuming a building in Italy along with the false claim that the building is a military warehouse that stores COVID-19 vaccines. While a fire did occur on Dec. 15 at the Salvo D’Acquisto barracks, which houses Carabinieri, Italian paramilitary police, the site did not contain a store of COVID shots, a spokesperson for the Carabinieri confirmed to The Associated Press. Carabinieri are posted in every town and city in Italy. The spokesperson said the fire affected an area used as housing, and that vaccinations are not performed at the location. There is an infirmary at the barrack, but it is used for everyday medical calls, officials said. Some Italian newsoutlets reported on the fire at the time, including iNews24. The outlet shared a video of one angle of the fire on Facebook. Their video, which contained a watermark, was among those misappropriated on social media. But iNews24’s coverage did not mention vaccines or the vaccine mandate, nor did other local reports. The video caption just said the footage showed the “carabinieri barracks are on fire.” The cause of the fire remains unknown. One person was injured.

— Associated Press writer Karena Phan in Sacramento, California, contributed this report with additional reporting from Associated Press writer Colleen Barry in Milan.

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