The claim: Health care workers during the Spanish influenza took that pandemic more seriously than health care workers during COVID-19
With over 20 million confirmed cases, over 346,000 deaths and a strain newly emerged from the United Kingdom, coronavirus is no laughing matter. But according to one social media post, it does not seem health care workers are taking the pandemic all too seriously.
A Facebook meme shared Dec. 30 by Texas radio show Walton and Johnson juxtaposes the Spanish flu of 1918 against the COVID-19 pandemic. A black-and-white photo of occupied hospital beds manned by solemn doctors and nurses is a sedate contrast to the two images alleged to be of health care workers during COVID-19, seen grinning and dancing. The meme suggests medical professionals during the present pandemic are not taking it seriously compared to their historical counterparts.
The Spanish flu, caused by the H1N1 subtype of the influenza A virus, was first identified among military personnel in spring 1918 and is estimated to have caused about 675,000 deaths in the US.
Elsewhere on Facebook and Instagram, the meme is being used to suggest the pandemic is a hoax, with the headline, “Bit different this time around,” or to urge lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns since “hospitals being at capacity is the norm.”
“Reopen America now and restore all constitutional rights. If it is tht (sic) bad build more hospitals and hire more nurses,” writes one Facebook user, also claiming the pandemic is a hoax.
It is unclear whether the meme was meant to be satirical, in some cases.
USA TODAY has reached out to Walton and Johnson for further comment.
Dancing to educate and boost morale
The images in the meme are real ones. The black-and-white photo from 1918 depicts an emergency hospital at Camp Funston, Kansas, and the two contemporary shots are TikTok dances performed by the cardiology team of New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton, England, and ward J19 of St. James’s Hospital in Leeds, England.
And contrary to what the meme suggests, the TikTok dances were meant to boost morale and encourage the public to follow stay-at-home orders, reported The Guardian.
The TikTok trend began a few months into the pandemic, as cases rose and hospitals became increasingly overwhelmed, gaining popularity all over the U.K. and the U.S. The videos have combined dancing and TikTok challenges with education on the coronavirus, social distancing and proper hygiene.
The TikTok videos have also been helpful for the health care workers themselves, as Kala Baker, a nurse at Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” in April.
“Obviously it’s just been a little bit stressful around here — it was a good way just to step away from our work for a second and bring some joy to the people around us and just to my co-workers that we could all get together and do something fun,” she said.
Recent studies have shown the challenges of working long hours in an exhausting environment like the COVID-19 pandemic is taking a significant toll on mental health and quality of life, with 40% of health care workers reporting serious psychiatric symptoms.
Our ruling: Missing context
A meme showing serious health care workers during the 1918 Spanish flu and dancing medical professionals during the coronavirus pandemic is MISSING CONTEXT, because without additional context it might be misleading. The images in the meme are screenshots of TikTok dances performed by heath care workers in the United Kingdom, a viral trend that began some months into the pandemic. The videos were made to boost morale and educate the public on the coronavirus, social distancing and proper hygiene among many other factors relevant to the pandemic. There is no evidence to suggest health care workers are taking the pandemic lightly; studies of health care workers suggest working long hours in stressful conditions are negatively impacting mental health.
Our fact-check sources:
- Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, accessed Dec. 31, “Coronavirus Resource Center“
- USA TODAY, Dec. 29, “Colorado confirms first known US case of new COVID-19 strain believed to be more contagious“
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 20, 2019, “1918 Pandemic (H1N1 virus)“
- National Museum of Health and Medicine, Dec. 5, 2017, “Closing in on a killer: Scientists unlock clues to the Spanish influenza virus“
- Birmingham Mail, April 9, “Watch NHS nurses dance in TikTok video at New Cross Hospital”
- Yorkshire Evening Post, April 8, “Frontline Leeds NHS staff fighting coronavirus lift spirits by performing TikTok dance“
- The Guardian, April 9, “NHS staff performing TikTok dance routines to keep morale high“
- CNBC, March 27, “TikTok challenges and dancing – these are a few ways medical professionals are keeping their spirits up amid coronavirus chaos“
- Good Morning America, April 1, “Nurses spread joy during coronavirus outbreak with TikTok dance videos“
- Psychiatry Online, Dec. 3, “Health Care Workers’ Mental Health and Quality of Life During COVID-19: Results From a Mid-Pandemic, National Survey“
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