March 16, 2021

The novel coronavirus is no laughing matter. Over the past year, it has killed more than 500,000 Americans, shuttered schools and workplaces, caused an economic recession, and strained the health care system.

Throughout the pandemic, disinformation about the virus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, has been shared worldwide. Since the novel coronavirus first emerged in late 2019, PolitiFact has fact-checked 800 claims about the pandemic — more than 60% of which are False or Pants on Fire! Those claims include political spin aimed at downplaying the severity of the pandemic, disinformation about the safety and efficacy of vaccines, and social media rumors about how to prevent or treat COVID-19.

Coronavirus misinformation is a serious problem, and it can directly affect people’s lives and health. But a lot of the false claims we’ve seen over the past year have been, well, a little wacky.

From “The Simpsons” and marijuana to 5G networks and microchips, here are 15 of our most bizarre fact-checks about the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. No, Tom Hanks doesn’t have a Wilson volleyball for his coronavirus quarantine

Claim: Says Tom Hanks has a volleyball to keep him company while he’s quarantined.

Rating: False

Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, tested positive for COVID-19 in March 2020. An image of Hanks holding a Wilson volleyball during his quarantine — an allusion to his character in the film “Cast Away” — isn’t real. It came from a satirical Australian website.

2. No, COVID-19 vaccines do not contain nanoparticles that will allow you to be tracked via 5G networks

Claim: There are nanoparticles in the COVID-19 vaccine that will help people “locate you” via 5G networks.

Rating: Pants on Fire!

The term “nanoparticles” refers to the small size of a material. There are nanoparticles in the COVID-19 vaccines called lipids, but they have nothing to do with microchip technology or 5G networks.

3. No, COVID-19 is not a simulation

Claim: “This whole COVID thing? It’s a SIMULATION.”

Rating: Pants on Fire!

The COVID-19 pandemic is not a simulation. The novel coronavirus has infected and killed millions of people around the world.

4. No, Pope Francis didn’t say you need the COVID-19 vaccine to get to heaven

Claim: “Pope Francis says covid vaccine will now be required to enter heaven.”

Rating: Pants on Fire!

The pope hasn’t said a COVID-19 vaccine is a requirement to enter heaven. Those words were published by the Babylon Bee, a satire website that writes “about Christian stuff, political stuff, and everyday life.”

5. No, poll does not say 38% of Americans won’t drink Corona beer because of coronavirus

Claim: “Poll Finds 38% of Americans Say They Will Not Drink Corona Beer Because of Virus.”

Rating: False

A poll conducted by a public relations firm was of American beer drinkers, not Americans overall. Other details — including the specific question asked — are unknown, so it’s difficult to say beer drinkers wouldn’t drink Corona beer because of the coronavirus, or some other reason.

6. Cocaine not been shown to treat novel coronavirus

Claim: “Cocaine kills corona virus, scientists is shocked to discover that this drug can fight the virus.”

Rating: Pants on Fire!

There isn’t a cure for COVID-19 — and if there were, we wouldn’t count on it being a stimulant like cocaine. Cocaine is a highly addictive drug that can increase the risk for long-term respiratory problems and movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease.

7. D’oh, ‘The Simpsons’ didn’t predict the coronavirus

Claim: Says “The Simpsons” predicted the coronavirus.

Rating: Pants on Fire!

“The Simpsons,” Fox’s long-running, animated TV show, has predicted the future on several occasions, including the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency. But not this time; an image from the show that originally said “apocalypse meow” was altered to read “corona virus.”

8. Drinking chloroquine fish-tank cleaner won’t stop the coronavirus. It might kill you

Claim: “Fish tank additive may treat coronavirus.”

Rating: False

This is an extension of the myth that the malaria drug chloroquine could treat the coronavirus. Fish-tank cleaners containing chloroquine cannot be substituted for the prescription drug. The Food and Drug Administration says you should not take chloroquine unless it has been prescribed by a doctor and obtained from a legitimate source.

9. There’s no evidence that wearing standard masks is harmful to your health

Claim: Says wearing face masks is more harmful to your health than going without one.

Rating: False

There’s no evidence that wearing standard masks, such as surgical masks or ones made of fabric, is harmful to the general public. Public health agencies recommend wearing face masks in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

10. Doctors administering COVID-19 vaccines aren’t guilty of war crimes

Claim: Doctors and nurses who administer the coronavirus vaccine can be “tried as war criminals.”

Rating: Pants on Fire!

Administering approved vaccines is not a medical experiment, and doctors and nurses who administer them aren’t guilty of war crimes. Regulators in the U.S. have approved several vaccines for emergency use, and clinical trial participants gave written content.

11. Marijuana not shown to treat coronavirus

Claim: Scientists “are shocked to discover that weed kills corona virus”

Rating: Pants on Fire!

It isn’t true, bud — there’s no known cure for COVID-19. It is legal to recreationally use marijuana in several states, but we wouldn’t recommend trying to treat the novel coronavirus with it.

12. No, the new coronavirus vaccines are not more dangerous than COVID-19

Claim: Says the new coronavirus vaccines contain toxic ingredients and are more dangerous than getting COVID-19.

Rating: Pants on Fire!

The leading coronavirus vaccines in the U.S. — which were tested for several months in thousands of people — can cause mild or moderate short-term reactions that resolve without complication. They are not more dangerous than the virus, which has killed more than 500,000 Americans.

13. No, Amazon’s Alexa doesn’t say ‘the government’ planned the coronavirus pandemic

Claim: If you ask Amazon’s Alexa about the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, it says “the government planned” it.

Rating: False

There was a project called Event 201 that simulated possible outcomes of a coronavirus pandemic, but it was a planning exercise and did not predict this specific COVID-19 pandemic. Also, we were unable to elicit this same answer from Alexa.

14. Viral image wrongly links coronavirus to ‘Resident Evil’ video game

Claim: “In ‘Resident Evil’ the Umbrella Corporation releases a virus that infects the people of Raccoon City. A biological research lab with the exact same logo as the Umbrella Corporation can be found in the city where the coronavirus outbreak originated.”

Rating: False

A biological research lab with a logo similar to the fictional lab from the “Resident Evil” video game is based in Shanghai. There’s no evidence that the novel coronavirus — which was first detected in Wuhan, China, 500 miles away from Shanghai — was created in a lab.

15. COVID-19 tests are not ‘scientifically meaningless’

Claim: “COVID19 PCR tests are scientifically meaningless.”

Rating: Pants on Fire!

Polymerase chain reaction (or PCR) tests are among the most common and reliable ways to test for the coronavirus. These tests look for the genetic material of the coronavirus in a sample that’s typically taken from a person’s nose or throat.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for these facts checks here and more of their fact-checks here.

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Daniel Funke is a staff writer covering online misinformation for PolitiFact. He previously reported for Poynter as a fact-checking reporter and a Google News Lab…
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