Chiropractor Again Peddles False, Misleading COVID-19 Claims

By Angelo Fichera

 

SciCheck Digest

The delta variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is more transmissible than previous forms of the virus, and has helped spur an increase in cases, including in children. But a chiropractor in a Facebook video wrongly claims that “it is not showing more of a problem.” That’s one of several misleading and false claims he makes about COVID-19.

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A St. Louis chiropractor who in April was accused by federal officials of deceptively marketing unproven COVID-19 treatments is airing baseless and false claims about the novel coronavirus that causes the disease and public health measures designed to prevent its spread.

Eric Nepute — who was the first person charged with violating the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, and who has spread misinformation that we’ve debunked before — took to an Aug. 17 livestream on Facebook to baselessly suggest that recent pandemic-related events, as well as the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, are somehow actually efforts “to keep you distracted” from the issue of voter fraud.

In the video, viewed more than 60,000 times, Nepute continues by rattling off a string of false and misleading claims related to COVID-19 — including about the delta variant, and certain mask and vaccine requirements. We fact-checked several of his claims.

Delta Distortions

Referring to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that everyone in schools — regardless of vaccination status — use face masks, Nepute claims that it’s “all because of the quote unquote delta variant.” He claims that the variant “is not showing more deaths, it is not showing more of a problem — we are not seeing pediatric hospitals filled. They’re trying to scare you.”

First of all, as we’ve explained, the delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 is about twice as transmissible as the original versions of the virus. In July, it became the dominant strain in the U.S. and is now estimated to account for virtually all infections. Though, it’s unclear whether the variant, while more transmissible, actually causes more severe disease.

The rise of delta has helped spur a significant spike in COVID-19 cases in the U.S., and COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are up significantly from early July, according to CDC data. It also prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend that even vaccinated individuals wear masks indoors in areas with substantial or high transmission of the coronavirus.

Children do continue to comprise a very small portion of overall COVID-19 hospitalizations. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association estimated, based on data collected from 23 states and New York City, that as of Aug. 19 “children ranged from 1.6%-3.6% of their total cumulated hospitalizations, and 0.2%-1.9% of all their child COVID-19 cases resulted in hospitalization.”

That said, the number of children being admitted to hospitals for the disease also has continued to increase since early July, CDC data show. The U.S. averaged 303 new daily hospital admissions for children with confirmed COVID-19 during the week of Aug. 16 to Aug. 22 — a new high.

Total pediatric hospital admissions for COVID-19 reached a high of nearly 2,000 earlier this month. Some children’s hospitals have reported nearing capacity, with some officials citing COVID-19 cases as well as increased cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

Dr. Roberta DeBiasi, division chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., told NPR that delta’s increased transmissibility was likely to blame for the larger volume of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in children.

“If you have a larger number of cases overall and you apply that percentage, you’re going to see children hospitalized,” she said. “And that’s really the most important take home for families is that there’s nothing particularly more dangerous about the delta variant for children, but it has always remained a danger.”

The AAP reported based on available state data that, as of Aug. 19, more than 180,000 COVID-19 cases in children “were added the past week, reaching levels of the previous winter surge of 2020-21.”

“After declining in early summer, child cases have increased exponentially, with over a four-fold increase the past month, rising from about 38,000 cases the week ending July 22nd to 180,000 the past week,” the organization said.

In an Aug. 5 letter to the Food and Drug Administration regarding the need to vaccinate children against COVID-19, AAP President Lee Savio Beers wrote that the rise in cases showed that “the Delta variant has created a new and pressing risk to children and adolescents across this country, as it has also done for unvaccinated adults.”

Later in his video, Nepute tells his viewers: “There was a news reporter in Texas that was misrepresenting the numbers in Texas hospitals for pediatric sicknesses and deaths. They’re trying to completely distract you.”

It’s true that an Aug. 12 news report in the Texas Tribune erroneously reported the number of children recently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Texas. The original story mistakenly referred to the total number hospitalized since the pandemic began. But what Nepute doesn’t mention is that the newspaper corrected itself the same day, affixing a prominent correction at the top of its story online and notifying readers of the error.

Missed Mark on Mask, Vaccine Mandates

Nepute also uses the video to argue against local mask mandates and vaccine requirements by distorting the facts about what federal officials are requiring of their own ranks.

“When the truth is, the White House is not even mandating masks,” Nepute claims. “When the truth is that the CDC and the World Health Organization are not even mandating the vaccines. They’re not mandating these injections. And so why are they trying to mandate them on you when they’re not doing it for themselves?”

President Joe Biden and the members of the Seattle Storm, the 2020 WNBA champions, wearing masks during an Aug. 23 event at the White House.

But contrary to Nepute’s claims, the White House reimposed indoor mask requirements for staff, regardless of vaccination status, in late July. CDC guidance recommends face masks be worn indoors in areas with substantial or high transmission of COVID-19. Washington, D.C., is currently experiencing “high” transmission, according to CDC data.

And the U.S. has started to implement a policy that requires all federal employees — which includes employees of the CDC — to attest to being vaccinated against COVID-19, or else comply with mitigation measures. Those measures include complying with routine testing, maintaining physical distance from others, and some travel restrictions. So while not a full-blown mandate, CDC employees are expected to either be vaccinated or comply with certain restrictions.

A WHO spokesperson told us there is currently no COVID-19 vaccine mandate for its staff. But while Nepute claims the organization is “trying to mandate them on you,” it has not necessarily endorsed mandatory vaccinations.

The WHO published an April policy brief in which it did not endorse or object to the use of such mandates, but outlined ethical considerations.

In a statement, the WHO said it “does not envision that countries will implement mandates for vaccination against COVID-19 at this time, but there are certainly situations where a strong recommendation to be vaccinated might be issued. One example would be health care professionals, to ensure the safety of both staff and the patients.”

“However, in situations where voluntary vaccine uptake is inadequate and COVID-19 transmission rates remain unacceptably high, it is possible that some countries may consider introducing mandatory programmes in the interest of saving lives,” the WHO statement said. “Extreme care should be taken with the implementation of such mandates or requirements, including the use of any penalties or fines, as they can reinforce social and health inequalities.”

Baseless Claim of Removals of Children in Australia

Turning his attention to other countries, Nepute proceeds by making a fact-free claim about the Australian government “taking children” from their homes in the name of COVID-19 safety.

“They’re already taking children out of homes that there’s possible risk of COVID in — they’re putting them in detainment camps,” Nepute claims. “The prime minister of health … in Australia talked about the camps, and how the kids are going to be well taken care of and there’s going to be plenty of things for them to do there.”

While Australia is currently under a very strict lockdown — and there are some quarantine facilities used in Australia for travelers — we found nothing to back up his claim regarding the forced removal of children from homes.

Other fact-checkers have addressed similar claims.

Nepute may be referring to Aug. 6 remarks by Brad Hazzard, minister for health and medical research of New South Wales, encouraging high school students to attend a voluntary vaccine drive at the Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, Australia. Hazzard told families dropping their children off — since “we don’t want too many people obviously milling around inside the arena” — that “your children will be well looked after, inside, when they arrive.”

Again, though, that was a voluntary opportunity for young people to get vaccinated. Hazzard wasn’t talking about forced removals of children or “detainment camps,” as Nepute says.

About 25% of Australia’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 so far, according to Our World in Data, based at the University of Oxford.

Editor’s note:SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Projectis made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation hasno controlover FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.

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