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Fake coronavirus in Billings article creates scare

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“Town Crier” newsletter – Briefs from the Region (2) – 2/18/20

On Feb. 16, Great Fall’s KRTV investigated an online news article claiming eight individuals tested positive for coronavirus in Billings, after receiving a message from a concerned citizen. The report read “Seven Americans and one Chinese have tested positive for coronavirus in Billings, Montana, authorities have said in a statement. According to the statement, seven people became ill after coming into contact with a Chinese colleague who was visiting from Shanghai and had recently been in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Authorities say the Chinese is still not showing symptoms of the virus despite testing positive and that is why border control did not notice.” The report was unequivocally false, and not a single municipal, county or health agency leader confirmed it. The website was found to have posted a strikingly similar story about Wilmington, North Carolina. At this time, it is suspected the fear mongering has an economic motive—clicks, including those from sensational, false stories, drive ad revenues for the website, underscoring the need for media consumers to be ever discerning in this new world of digital news. Only 15 people in the U.S. have tested positive for the virus, with no associated deaths. A suspected case in Bozeman last week turned out to be unrelated to the Wuhan coronavirus sweeping the globe. 

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