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:
In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, 23% of mail-in ballots have been rejected for missing signatures.
The correct number is about 0.5%. About 2,265 of the 433,235 mail-in ballots that had been submitted to the Miami-Dade County Elections Department by Thursday morning were flagged for rejection because of missing signatures, said Robert Rodriguez, assistant deputy supervisor of elections for the department. Another 212 had mismatched signatures.
The erroneous 23% figure was shared widely on Twitter. “Miami Dade reporting 23% of early ballots being REJECTED for missing signatures,” wrote one Twitter user in a post that was retweeted more than 4,600 times on Thursday and later deleted. Actor and activist George Takei shared a similar tweet with the false information on Thursday.
It is unclear what fueled the false claims around the number of ballots without signatures, but they surfaced after an opinion article published in the Tampa Bay Times on Oct. 16 pointed out a different discrepancy related to Miami-Dade County ballots.
“Although Miami-Dade County accounts for only 7.2% of mail ballots cast by Florida voters, it accounts for nearly 23% of the state’s mail ballots received without signatures,” the article said. Those numbers were current as of Oct. 16, according to Daniel Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida and one of the article’s authors. As of Thursday, he said, Miami-Dade County accounts for 10.3% of the state’s total ballots and about 1 in 4 of the state’s ballots with missing signatures. Smith said Miami-Dade County may be overrepresented among counties for ballots without signatures because it is home to many naturalized citizens from around the world who may have difficulty reading voting instructions in the languages provided. However, social media users spreading the recent false claims are “completely misrepresenting” those numbers, Smith added.
There is still time for voters in Miami-Dade County or elsewhere in Florida to correct missing or mismatched signatures on their mailed ballots. Election officials notify voters whose signatures are missing or don’t match, and any such voter can complete a cure affidavit and return it to their county elections department by 5 p.m. Thursday, a state officials said.
New data show flu cases are down 98% around the globe.
Social media posts making this claim are providing incomplete information, relying solely on data from countries in the Southern Hemisphere like New Zealand and Australia. The Northern Hemisphere has yet to experience its full flu season.
While the claim isn’t true, there is some good news to be found here. Experts say that extensive measures taken in these countries from mask wearing, lockdowns and social distancing have contributed to low flu numbers this year. While some posts online did not cite evidence for the figures, others pointed to newly released data from the World Health Organization to suggest that flu cases are down by 98% around the world. The WHO has not said that. In its latest influenza update based on flu cases reported from Sept. 29 to Oct. 11, WHO found that global influenza numbers are lower than expected for this time of year.
“Although the Southern Hemisphere seems to have been largely spared, we are still very concerned about the northern hemisphere influenza season just starting,” Dr. Margaret Harris, a WHO spokeswoman, said in an email.
Medical professionals in the U.S. have been warning of a “twindemic,” an overlap of influenza and COVID-19, which have similar symptoms.
“In the areas where people properly wear a proper mask, we will see very low rates of COVID-19 and influenza,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, infectious diseases expert and head of vaccine research at the Mayo Clinic. “In the areas where people are not compliant with mask wearing and distancing guidelines, we will see both diseases, with COVID-19 more prominent because of its inherent greater infectiousness.”
New Zealand, where there was a strict approach to the pandemic, officials reported 25 coronavirus deaths in a country with a population of about 5 million. Officials there have been applauded for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The country took early action against the virus and has worked to almost eliminate community transmission.
“The efforts that were undertaken to reduce the spread of SARS-COV2 were also effective at reducing the flu,” said Dr. Edward Belongia, director for the Center for Clinical Epidemiology & Population Health at the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute, in Wisconsin. “They are both respiratory viruses that spread in similar ways.”
Medical experts like Belongia warn that the U.S. has not initiated steps like mask wearing and lockdowns on the same level as Australia and New Zealand to control the pandemic so the flu remains a large concern.
“Flu could be a very real problem again this year as it was last year,” Poland said. “Don’t neglect your flu vaccine.”