Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

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As coronavirus cases soar, so too are online lies about Covid-19 and the vaccines designed to stop it.

Misinformation experts told our colleague Davey Alba, who covers technology, that people who peddle in untruths have seized on the spike in cases from the Delta variant to spread new and rehashed false narratives.

Some of the most prevalent pandemic falsehoods, according to a company that tracks misinformation: vaccines don’t work (up 437 percent); they contain microchips (up 156 percent); and that people should rely on their “natural immunity” instead of getting vaccinated (up 111 percent). Some of the most prominent purveyors of misinformation include Andrew Torba, the chief executive of the alternative social network Gab, and Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician.

“We’ve seen the same names over and over in the past year,” Davey said. “A lot of them shifted from virus misinformation to election misinformation, and then to virus misinformation again. They often seize on news events to elevate themselves and get their names in the conversation.”

The more savvy spreaders know blatant lies could get them banned on social media platforms, Davey said, “so they frame a lot of their posts as just asking questions, or they cherry pick certain outlier cases.”

Conspiracy theories also spread on fringe platforms before moving into more mainstream sites like Facebook, which has struggled to eradicate health misinformation during the pandemic.

Our colleague Nicole Hong recently encountered a woman in New York City who rebuffed her employer’s request that she get vaccinated. To explain her decision, she said the film “I Am Legend” shows how a vaccine could cause millions of people to turn into zombies — a meme that people opposed to vaccines have circulated widely on social media. (The movie’s screenwriter recently weighed in on Twitter: “Oh. My. God. It’s a movie. I made that up. It’s. Not. Real.”)

Even for those who follow the news closely, it can be confusing to follow the ever-evolving virus and the attempts to defeat it. It’s in those gaps of understanding that misinformation can flourish — and for as long as the pandemic lasts, that dynamic is sure to continue.

“The new wave of misinformation is obviously caused by the Delta variant,” Davey added. “But you can expect that there will be another surge when there’s another variant.”

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New laws or executive orders in a number of Republican-led states across the United States ban mask mandates. But as the fall semester gets underway, some school districts plan to require masks anyway.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has threatened to withhold the salaries of superintendents and school board members who violate his order. “Better a loss of funding than a loss of lives,” Carlee Simon, the superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, wrote in an opinion in The Washington Post.

Three other Florida school systems — in Broward, Leon and Duval Counties — have also said they may retain or seek to impose mask mandates.

On Monday, the top elected official in Dallas County sued Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, arguing that the governor’s ban on mask mandates violates state law. But the Dallas public school district, in contravention of the ban, will require everyone on school property, including students, employees and visitors, to wear masks.

“If we can save one student, one teacher, from going through this awful pain it’ll get them more prepared to learn,” said Michael Hinojosa, the Dallas superintendent. “And I think that if you do this together you have a better chance for success.”


See how the vaccine rollout is going in your county and state.



Now that I’m vaccinated, I’m trying to be brave and break out of my shell to make new friends. I found a Facebook group for young women like myself who plan meet-ups together. There’s a new members brunch and I’m not sure what to do. I really want to attend, but it’s an indoor brunch with a dozen people I don’t know. The Delta variant has caused cases to spike in my area. Is it safe to participate in this activity? I’m vaccinated, but I don’t know the status of the other attendees. I don’t know the etiquette for asking about vaccination status. I want to branch out and make new friends after a year of lockdown, but I don’t want to jeopardize my health or the health of my family. It’s so frustrating!

— Halle Renfro, Redmond, Wash.

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