In the latest example of misinformation about the coronavirus ricocheting across social media, a Nevada doctor’s selfie has been used to spread false claims that downplay the severity of the pandemic.
In the picture posted to Twitter on Sunday, the doctor, Jacob Keeperman, is standing at the Renown Regional Medical Center’s alternate care site in Reno, Nev. In the background, empty hospital beds covered in plastic stand in a vacant parking area. The photo was taken on Nov. 12, the day the site opened, so patients had not yet arrived, Renown Health said.
“I want to thank all the incredible staff who are Fighting the Good Fight to help all those suffering from COVID-19,” Dr. Keeperman, the medical director for Renown’s Transfer and Operations Center, wrote. “With 5 deaths in the last 32 hours, everyone is struggling to keep their head up. Stay strong.”
His photograph was then used by the account @Networkinvegas to erroneously claim that it showed a “fake hospital” that had “never seen a single patient.”
On Tuesday, President Trump brought that falsehood to a wider audience, retweeting the @Networkinvegas post with the comment: “Fake election results in Nevada, also!” Twitter flagged the president’s tweet, noting that the claim about election fraud was “disputed.”
In fact, the alternate care site in Reno has cared for a total of 219 Covid patients in the three weeks it has been open. And across Nevada, hospitalizations have risen 43 percent in the last 14 days, with a 55 percent increase in deaths, according to a New York Times database.
Dr. Keeperman said in an interview on Wednesday that he was “sad and disappointed” to see the attacks surrounding his post on social media. “I sent that tweet to recognize and to thank all of our health care teammates that often go unrecognized,” he said. “My greatest wish is that I never have to tell another family that their loved one won’t be coming home.”
He has received an outpouring of support from local, state and national leaders, from health care colleagues, and from many in the general public — but he has also received some “less than savory messages,” he said. “I have chosen to ignore those and to keep hope.”
In response to the president’s tweet, Gov. Steve Sisolak of Nevada, a Democrat, said, “His consistent misleading rhetoric on Covid-19 is dangerous and reckless, and today’s implication that Renown’s alternate care site is a ‘fake hospital’ is among the worst examples we’ve seen.”
Addressing those who maintain that the pandemic is some kind of hoax, Dr. Keeperman said in the interview: “Covid is real. I sure hope that you don’t get sick, but when you do, we’re going to be here to care for you. And we’re going to have a bed for you, and we’re going to do our best. And then you’ll know just how real it is.”