A photograph of an alternative care location at a hospital in Reno, Nevada, is falsely portrayed in social media to feed the false narrative that a coronavirus epidemic is a hoax, even as cases multiply in the state.
The famous Regional Medical Center has been the primary target for online conspiracy theories, suggesting that hospitals are empty and the virus is not as dangerous as top medical officials say. The hospital opened an alternative care location on November 12 with two additional hospital beds within a parking facility to provide for overflow in COVID-19 cases if necessary.
Here is a closer look at the situation.
REQUIREMENT: A photo of a doctor standing in front of empty hospital beds in Reno, Nevada, an additional care facility for COVID-19 patients, demonstrates that the coronavirus epidemic is fake.
AP EVALUATION: False. The photo was taken on the day the alternative care location opened and the patients have not yet arrived. According to the Neves Regional Medical Center, 198 coronavirus patients have been treated at the site located in the parking garage since its first opening.
FACTS: Posts posted on social media in recent weeks have shared various fakes about the location of the hospital’s parking garage, with some posts saying visitors went there and found no patients, which was then cited as evidence that the virus was a hoax.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday spread the misinformation and retweeted the doctor’s photo amid empty beds to more than 80 million followers.
“Fake election results in Nevada too!” he said of the tweet, suggesting that both the parking garage and the epidemic were fake.
Officials at the renowned hospital say the patient currently cares for 42 patients in the parking structure, and 198 patients have been cared for since the November opening day. The site, designed for patients who do not require long-term care, can accommodate more than 1,400 patients.
Video: A battle of a COVID-19 survivor with misinformation
The Twitter account accusing the Renown facility has repeatedly criticized the state governor for its coronavirus restrictions. The @Networkinvegas account describes itself as an internal source of information about Las Vegas, including “everything you need to network, get involved, and have fun in Las Vegas.” The site could not be noticed immediately.
“Here’s the fake Nevada parking garage hospital picture that our debut governor tweeted, proving it was all a scam,” the report tweeted, sharing a photo of Dr. Jacob Keeperman, who works at the medical center. “There are no patients, no folded beds, no packaged equipment that has never been used! Millions have been spent on this scam and no patients have been seen in this sham hospital!”
Keeperman, Medical Director of the Renown Transfer and Operation Center, shared his own photo in the parking garage Twitter with the hope that he can pass on the severity of the situation in the hospital. But his tweet was quickly posted and published in an ambiguous way on the internet. Keeperman took the photo on the day of the opening of the care site and before the arrival of the first patient.
“It’s very demoralizing for anyone who works so hard to get so politicized and polarized,” he said. “I will hold the hands of the sick when they take their last breath, because their loved ones cannot be with them.”
The surge in cases has put a strain on health professionals like Keeperman. Nevada’s hospital population gradually grew during the state’s fall wave. The Nevada Hospital Association reported that a record 1,589 patients were hospitalized on Tuesday with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19. Due to competing demands, including the flu, the state occupies 78% of the hospital beds of nearly 6,900 employees.
Hospitals in northern Nevada have seen an increase of more than 250% in confirmed hospital cases over the past month, the association reported. In Washoe County, where Renown is located, extra beds allowed hospitals to remain at 86% capacity.
Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak fired back on President saying that the state had to contend with Trump’s ongoing attempts to politicize a virus that killed more than 270,000 Americans.
At the beginning of the pandemic, photos of empty hospital waiting rooms spread on the Internet and falsely suggesting that the coronavirus was a hoax. Hospital officials explained that the lack of people in public spaces is evidence of new procedures designed to protect patients and staff by restricting visitors and minimizing shared waiting areas, not because the epidemic was not real.
Sam Metz contributed to the report. Metz is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newspapers to report on covered issues.