Social media spreads COVID-19 ‘fake news’ in Bayonne, again

This time, the Office of Emergency Management confirmed Mayor Davis did not have COVID-19

Mayor Davis walks empty streets in Bayonne on March 26.
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Mayor Davis walks empty streets in Bayonne on March 26.

“He is NOT sick, has NOT been tested, and is at work EVERY DAY since this emergency began,” the Bayonne Office of Emergency Management (OEM) said in a statement after rumors that Mayor James Davis had contracted COVID-19 had spread across social media.

OEM highlighted the truth in the March 25 daily COVID-19 update, warning residents to be careful of where they get their information.

“We want to advise all residents to be very cautious of FAKE NEWS and RUMORS,” OEM stated. “We are working very hard to ensure all information shared is accurate.”

The official social media sites for Bayonne include Mayor Davis, City of Bayonne, and Bayonne OEM.

The city is dealing with an enormous amount of information and work, and stopping to deal with Facebook rumors is taking people away from critical tasks, according to Bayonne OEM.

This is not the first time social media has caused a stir in Bayonne over COVID-19 concerns.

‘Graduation is not cancelled.’

That’s what Bayonne Superintendent of Schools John Niesz is telling the community after a fake letter circulated on social media on March 22. The fake letter, sporting Superintendent Niesz’s School District letterhead, claims that graduation was canceled, among other false statements.

So Niesz took to social media with a real letter of his own to clarify the situation.

“The post is fake and no such letter was generated from my office or the Bayonne School District,” Superintendent Niesz stated. “We are planning on re-opening on 4/21/20 as of now.”

Bayonne public schools are using remote instruction through virtual learning until April 20.

The fake letter and social media post have been referred to the Police Department for investigation. Superintendent Niesz is confident law enforcement will find the person or persons responsible.

The school district is not messing around when it comes to misinformation and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We intend to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law,” Niesz said. “Fake news will not be tolerated.”

Official notifications from the district will be announced through social media posts, the email system, and Board of Education website.

Previously, Niesz had worked quickly to quash COVID-19 rumors about the Bayonne School District.

False reports of sick students

Niesz said rumors had been spread online prior to schools closing, saying a student contracted the virus .

“We were made aware of reports on social media today of a student in a Hudson County town with COVID-19,” Niesz said in a March 12 letter.

That report was false. Niesz said the Hudson County Executive Superintendent told him that the report was without merit.

Niesz said a student came to school on March 10 wearing a surgical mask, claiming a family member was in a location with a suspected case of COVID-19. Niesz called the location and found that claim was false.

“We are taking all reports very seriously and monitoring every situation with our Department of Health,” Niesz said. “If there is any report of COVID-19 in our schools or reported to our Department of Health, we will notify our community immediately.”

Before rumors of sick students circulated, misinterpreted photographs posted to social media caused local outrage after a cruise ship with potentially COVID-19 infected passengers docked in Bayonne.

The Anthem of the Seas fiasco

Mike McCabe, Chief of Operations at McCabe Ambulance Servuces, cleared up previous misconceptions about Bayonne Emergency Medical Services’s handling of the suspected COVID-19 patients from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship that docked in the city.

When the Anthem of the Seas docked in Bayonne on Feb. 1, several passengers were suspected of being possible COVID-19 patients.

McCabe recalled that there were eight to ten individuals from mainland China, not from the Hubei province, who boarded the ship prior to the travel bans that were enacted. Out of extreme caution, McCabe said, the CDC wanted to screen those individuals for COVID-19.

“We were very much a part of conference calls in days leading up to landing in port and formed strategic plans to remove them using proper PPE,” McCabe said. “The patients were removed from the ship and brought into the cruise terminal for temporary screening before heading to [Newark] University Hospital for further screening.”

Despite the proper procedure, a picture circulated online that outraged some Bayonne residents. The image captured EMS transporting patients with other illnesses that were cleared of COVID-19 while wearing only gloves, according to McCabe.

When the Anthem of the Seas comes into port every week, EMS transports patients to the hospital who have gotten sick or injured while at sea.

“The cameras captured us going on to the ship with just our regular PPE, which is just gloves, to receive the normal patients,” McCabe said. “It looked as if we were not appropriately protecting ourselves and others by not wearing the appropriate PPE.”

In reality, potentially infected COVID-19 patients were transported off the ship into the cruise terminal by EMS workers in full PPE before heading to the hospital.

“We would never put our people in a situation to expose them or anyone else,” McCabe said. “Everything we’re doing is well-practiced and part of a planned operation between multiple entities and city agencies.”

From misleading cruise ship pictures, to fake letters from the Superintendent of Schools, COVID-19 related fake news on social media has caused quite a stir in Bayonne.

Unless some measure is taken to limit the spread of fake news on social media, it appears it is only a matter of time until the next fake news post is the talk of the city.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.