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

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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Claim that $2.5 billion has been allocated to immigrant ‘welcoming center’ is unfounded

CLAIM: $2.5 billion of American tax dollars has been allocated toward a welcoming center for immigrants coming to the country illegally.

THE FACTS: The conservative blogging duo Diamond and Silk falsely claimed that American tax dollars are set to fund a multi-billion dollar welcoming center for immigrants arriving to the U.S. illegally. “Shame on any Republican who’s working with the B!den regime to completely destroy the Infrastructure of America,” the pair posted on Twitter and Facebook. “The 2.5 Billion allocated towards a ‘Welcoming Center for Illegal Aliens’ should be allocated towards LEGAL Americans only. After all, it is American tax dollars!” It wasn’t clear to what the duo’s claim referred, but the closest match in federal legislation is the bipartisan infrastructure bill approved by the Senate on Tuesday. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act gives the General Services Administration about $3.4 billion for “construction and acquisition, and repairs and alterations of border stations and land ports of entry,” with $2.5 billion of that going toward items in U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s five-year plan. CBP confirmed these projects did not include any “welcoming center.” CBP sent the AP a statement noting, “There is no truth to that rumor.” Instead, the bill funds a range of infrastructure improvement projects at land ports of entry, including repairs, expansion and modernization of border facilities that, in some cases, have not been updated in decades. A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers from Arizona last week urged congressional leaders to support the funding for land port of entry projects. They wrote in a letter that fixing the aging infrastructure at Arizona facilities would help the U.S. maintain trade with Mexico, crack down on the transport of illegal substances and accommodate border traffic. Diamond and Silk told the AP they never claimed the bipartisan infrastructure bill provided funding for a welcoming center, but did not immediately respond to a request to identify another basis for their claim.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report with additional reporting by Associated Press writer Jude Joffe-Block in Phoenix.

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Posts mislead on recalled COVID-19 test

CLAIM: A COVID-19 PCR test recently recalled for having too many false positive results was the only COVID-19 test available last spring, so its false results exaggerated the scope of the pandemic and fooled Americans into losing their businesses and their livelihoods.

THE FACTS: The recently recalled COVID-19 test featured in a widely shared video on Instagram and TikTok is a rapid antigen test, not a PCR test, and it was not the only test in use last spring. In fact, it was never authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for commercial distribution. The video falsely suggests that Innova Medical Group’s recall of its own test is evidence the coronavirus pandemic is exaggerated. The video shows a narrator in front of a screenshot of an FDA notice about the June recall of the test. She claims the test is a PCR test that “started the pandemic” and tricked people into losing their businesses and livelihoods “because of a lie.” However, the FDA notice makes clear the test is an antigen test, not a PCR test. PCR tests detect the genetic material of the virus and are considered the most sensitive type of test. Antigen tests are rapid tests that are less sensitive and look for proteins called antigens on the surface of the virus. Innova Medical Group’s recalled antigen test also was never authorized by the FDA, while many other antigen tests and PCR tests have been. Innova Medical Group recalled the test after the FDA found there was a risk it could give false results and said the test had been improperly distributed without the federal agency’s approval. FDA spokesperson Jim McKinney told the AP that a different test, the Quidel Sofia 2 SARS Antigen FIA, was the first antigen COVID-19 test it authorized for emergency use, on May 9, 2020. The agency had already given emergency use authorization to PCR tests to detect the virus months before that. The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed more than 600,000 lives in the United States and more than 4 million globally, according to Johns Hopkins University.

— Ali Swenson

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No, airline flight delays in Florida were not related to vaccine mandates

CLAIM: Flights across the U.S. are backed up because pilots and crew are walking off boarded flights and refusing to take the mandated vaccine.

THE FACTS: Social media users are sharing a photo of a Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport arrival and departure board with numerous flight delays and cancellations, falsely stating it reveals that pilots are walking off flights in protest of having to get COVID-19 vaccines. The posts say that pilots and crew are refusing to “take the jab.” The photo with the false claim began circulating recently after weather and operational challenges resulted in delayed and canceled flights. The board showed cancellations for Spirit Airlines, American Airlines and JetBlue Airways. All three airlines contacted by the AP confirmed that the delays and cancellations were a result of weather. The AP reported last week that more than 227 Spirit flights had been canceled and 58 other flights were delayed on August 2. The Air Line Pilots Association said in a statement that Spirit was also experiencing operational issues that did not include a pilot strike. “Any such rumor or report is false,” the association said in a statement. “Spirit’s pilots are working diligently with other employee groups to safely and professionally return to full operations as soon as possible.” Erik Hofmeyer, communications director for Spirit, told the AP in an email that the post was not true. American Airlines also confirmed that weather caused the delays last week. The airline is offering an incentive — an extra day off in 2022 and $50 from a recognition program — to employees who get the COVID-19 vaccine, officials said. United Airlines and Frontier Airlines will require their employees in the U.S. to be vaccinated against COVID-19 around October. JetBlue officials also confirmed there was no connection between vaccination among pilots and delays or cancellations, citing weather in the Northeast and the accelerated ramp up in travel as responsible. “We are continuing to evaluate a vaccination requirement for all JetBlue crew members, and in the meantime, we continue to highly recommend our crewmembers get a shot to protect themselves and those around them,” Derek Dombrowski, JetBlue’s manager of corporate communications, said in an email.

— Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed this report.

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Alberta did not lift COVID-19 restrictions because of ‘freedom fighter’

CLAIM: The Canadian province of Alberta lifted all COVID-19 restrictions after health officials couldn’t provide evidence in court that the virus exists.

THE FACTS: Alberta relaxed its COVID-19 restrictions because the province hit predetermined vaccination goals, not because of a court case. Due to a misrepresentation of what happened in a court case involving Patrick King, a Canadian resident, King is being falsely credited on social media with driving the change. Court records show King was fined in December for violating COVID-19 measures, specifically for gathering in a large group while protesting masks and pandemic restrictions. King, who represented himself in court, sought to challenge the validity of Alberta’s public health rules and requested that the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, present papers that discuss the isolation of SARS-CoV-2 “directly from a sample taken from a diseased patient.” In July, the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta quashed the subpoena. The court said the health agency “has no material evidence” that pertains to King’s fine. Multiple social media users, including King, misrepresented the language used by the court, falsely suggesting it proved there is no evidence that COVID-19 exists. During an interview with conservative podcaster Stew Peters, King falsely stated: “They knew this whole time that this was never isolated,” later adding that restrictions were made to “bankrupt our country under the guise of a false pandemic.” The AP has previously debunked the false claim that coronavirus has never been isolated. Chinese authorities first isolated the virus on Jan. 7, 2020 and Canadian scientists did so in March of 2020. “The Court decision regarding the subpoena was a preliminary technical matter,” Brett Boyden, a spokesperson for the chief medical officer of health, told the AP in an email. “It was argued that Dr. Hinshaw did not have any material evidence to provide that would be relevant to the matters to be decided at trial. The Court decided to quash the subpoena.” Social media users referred to King as a “freedom fighter” who “forced the government to admit” that COVID-19 doesn’t exist, and falsely claimed that Alberta lifted all restrictions because of King’s case. Alberta recently eased COVID-19 restrictions but the decision had nothing to do with King, according to the health agency. The province entered the final phase of its Open for Summer Plan after at least 70% of residents over the age of 12 received at least one dose of the vaccine. “It is false to claim there is any relationship between the decision on the subpoena and the lifting of public health measures,” Boyden said. He added, “Mr. King was ultimately found guilty of the offence at trial and sentenced to pay a fine.” King did not respond to a request for comment.

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

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Photo shows Sen. Rand Paul getting a hepatitis A booster shot, not a COVID-19 vaccine

CLAIM: A photo shows Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

THE FACTS: The photo was taken in February 2015 and shows the Republican senator receiving a hepatitis A booster shot. Paul has not received the COVID-19 vaccine. The falsely identified photo circulated widely on Twitter with a video Paul posted Sunday criticizing enforced vaccines, mask mandates and lockdown measures. “We have either had COVID, had the vaccine or been offered the vaccine,” Paul said in the video. “We will make our own health choices.” The photo of Paul receiving the hepatitis A booster was taken at the Capitol physician’s office. Reporter Jeremy W. Peters captured the photo for The New York Times on Feb. 3, 2015. “Ironic: Today I am getting my booster vaccine. Wonder how the liberal media will misreport this?” Paul tweeted at the time, sharing a photo of him getting the shot. In May, the AP reported that Paul said he didn’t plan on getting the COVID-19 vaccine, claiming he had “natural immunity.” He said he might change his stance depending on whether those who had COVID-19 get reinfected at a greater rate than the vaccinated. Paul tested positive for the virus in March 2020. In an email to the AP, Paul said he based his decision not to get the COVID-19 vaccine now on an Israeli study that showed natural immunity is quite protective against reinfection. “But I keep an open mind and will continue to monitor the reinfection data,” Paul said. Public health officials are urging people to get vaccinated even if they’ve already been infected with the virus. A recent CDC study found people who recovered from COVID-19 and ignored the advice were more than twice as likely to get reinfected compared to survivors who got shots.

— Arijeta Lajka

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