COVID-19 and the NEED for School Librarians

The Beginning

Recently, I started to notice something happening on my social media, something I’d hoped we’d moved away from. I saw a Covid-19 conspiracy video being shared. Not once, not twice, probably dozens of times over a few days. The people sharing the video were not the usual conspiracy theorists or on the political fringe. Some were relatives, some were childhood friends, some were teachers. A few worked in healthcare. They often made comments along the lines of “I’m not sure if this is real, but wow!”,  or “We really need to look into this!”, but the most common was something like, “It’s important to look at both sides of these things.” The video featured a scientist and various medical professionals making a variety of shocking claims, from the idea that wearing masks would make people more sick, to the story about how the scientist was fired and thrown in jail for no cause, to the hospital doctors that are being pressured into coding every death as a Covid-19 death.  It stated, as if fact, that we were weakening our immune systems through quarantine, that if we just lived our lives like normal we could develop our herd immunity. It talked about the money involved, about the researchers, doctors, and foundations holding back a real treatment in favor of making money off of an upcoming vaccine. I thought about it. I researched the video, the people in it, and the claims being made. Frankly, it was a whole bunch of nothing. Almost every part could be thoroughly debunked with just a small amount of research. I stewed. Finally, I realized what all of these people needed…a librarian!

Teaching Digital Citizenship

As a school librarian, a big part of my job is teaching kids about digital citizenship, about how to recognize reputable and valid sources and how to weed out the "fake news" and propaganda. Kids are pretty savvy with using the internet because they've grown up having it. However, it's still really, really easy to get tricked because a lot of the disreputable sources are trying to trick you. I teach them to do their research. I show them what to look for, where to start a research project to find good information. Teaching our students online safety and responsibility is just as important to their health and safety as teaching them to look both ways or stop, drop, and roll. As for us adults? Many of us did not grow up with the internet, and while it's not new, it's still like operating in a foreign country. We might not know the warning signs, all of the ins and outs, and what to look out for. No one is teaching the adults, or if they are, the adults aren’t listening. That’s why these things, yes, the “fake news”, keep taking off like wildfire.

Simple Lessons

I always tell my ten year old son, if you're reading something or watching something, always think "Who does this benefit?" Maybe it's an advertiser, trying to sell you a product. Maybe it's a person and their own self-promotion, trying to get famous. Maybe it's a foreign government, trying to instill fear or chaos. Maybe it's a political candidate, trying to get elected or reelected. Every piece of media is coming from a person, or group of people, with their own motivation. Look into it, look for corroborating evidence or reporting. Find out who made it and why. Find out where the money came from to make it. Is it presented as fact or opinion? Reputable sites and news sources will have this information out in the open, for example, when Good Morning America is promoting a Disney movie and they say something like "A note that ABC News is a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company." Magazines list the journalists in their bylines. Newspapers label their editorial section. They want you to be aware and it's in their best interest to be transparent.

So, about this video.

Yes, as many noted, this video keeps getting removed from YouTube. Why? It violates their community standards. “That’s censorship!” Well, no, not really. YouTube is a company and they have the right to set the standards for what they host on their own site. What standard was the video breaking? I can’t be sure, but from looking at the standards I would guess this one: "We will also continue to quickly remove videos that violate our policies when they are flagged, including those that discourage people from seeking medical treatment or claim harmful substances have health benefits. Finding trustworthy content is especially critical as news is breaking, and we’ll continue to make sure YouTube delivers accurate information for our users." This is a big red flag. YouTube keeps up all sorts of questionable material, why is this one a problem?

If it seems too out there, too crazy, too good to be true, it probably is. I'd never heard of this scientist or issue before the last few days, so I looked into it. The first thing that came up were these Snopes articles. Take a look here  or here Snopes is pretty reputable and I like that they link to their sources so that you can check them out yourself.

You don’t have to take their word for it.

The scientist in question, Dr. Mikovits, was not fired for her discovery nor arrested for no reason. She was fired for using false information and manipulating data in her study, as well as refusing to return a cell line that had been mistakenly sent to her office. Her study was retracted in full in 2011. She was later arrested for stealing documents, notebooks, and a computer from her workplace after her firing. The Institute that she worked for actually sought a restraining order to prevent her from destroying or changing the data from the previous study.  This information was available online through court records, affidavits, and multiple newspaper articles.  Here is one of the affidavits,

After her initial study was published, it was reviewed as scientific studies always are. Several other studies at different laboratories failed to replicate her findings, which led to the eventual full retraction. You can find the initial study, the follow up studies, and the retraction online as well. One of those studies is published here: This study was commissioned by the now famous Dr. Fauci and the NIH. In the video, Dr. Mikovits makes multiple slanderous charges against Dr. Fauci.

The discrediting and retraction of the original study cost Dr. Mikovits at least $750,000 in federal grant money. We talked about motivation before; Dr. Fauci has worked under multiple administrations of both political parties, is very highly regarded in the scientific community, but then his study disproves her study.

As a side note, Dr. Fauci does not receive ownership of patents for the drugs that he develops with NIH, NIH (and the taxpayers) are the owners of the patent. From what I’ve read, any profits are split 50/50 between NIH and the drug manufacturer, not the individual scientists. This is the same for any government or university researcher.

When no other laboratory could replicate the results Dr. Mikovits published, she went back and altered the protocols of her study to make nearly all the results “positive” for XMRV and other retrovirus. The retraction of the study can be found here:

From her court case's documents: In two sworn affidavits, Max Pfost details how Dr. Mikovits told him that “WPI was going down” and that she was going to see to it that at least half of a $1.5M R01 grant from the US National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease would follow her to a new employer. Because of her poor scientific ethics, her firing, and the retraction of her study, this did not happen.

So, with all of this information, and much, much more out there if you're interested, please look into what you're posting before you post it. I don’t know how long FB lets posts be, but I feel like I’d really push the limits if I had the time to research all of the claims being made and the people behind them. There are so many questionable people and suspect information in this video. For example, Dr. Erickson? He does not attend any dying patients in any hospital, and therefore would not be forced to fill out death reports.

"In a rare statement late Monday, the American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Academy of Emergency Medicine declared they “emphatically condemn the recent opinions released by Dr. Daniel Erickson and Dr. Artin Messihi. These reckless and untested musings do not speak for medical societies and are inconsistent with current science and epidemiology regarding COVID-19. As owners of local urgent care clinics, it appears these two individuals are releasing biased, non-peer reviewed data to advance their personal financial interests without regard for the public’s health.”

Slow down, research, think

Our country has been a victim of cyber warfare for years, as foreign actors routinely post incendiary and provocative information on fake accounts and then watch it get shared until it's on thousands or millions of people's pages. People believe lies, propaganda, and misinformation because their friends posted it. By posting outrageous, provocative, and incendiary content without verifying, we’ve allowed ourselves to be used as weapons against each other. It can be anything from setting up pages and groups, to "catfishing", to posting disproved videos like this. Slow down, research, and think. Just like we teach our students, look for reputable sources, look for evidence. How does posting this affect you and your choices? How does it affect your friends and family who might watch it and believe it? Most of all, who does it benefit?

Casey Grenier

Casey Grenier is a PreK-5 school librarian at Beach Elementary in Calvert County, a mom of two, and a stickler for good resources. She is passionate about finding the books and information that our students, and society, need and deserve.  She is a member of MASL, AASL, and ALA.  


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