Fact Check: Spongebob Mask Meme

by Jensen McKey

Editor’s Note: The ENN Newsroom is researching social media messages and memes that are sharing information
about current events. This first project examines the factual basis for a meme making the rounds
around the internet related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This meme features the popular children’s cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.  The first frame shows SpongeBob holding up a tweet from the United States Surgeon General decrying masks and saying they are ineffective against the COVID-19 virus.

The character looks at the tweet and tosses it in a fire and dons a mask.

The tweet is, in fact, an accurate reflection of a tweet posted by the U.S. Surgeon General. Vice Admiral (VADM) Jerome M. Adams tweeted that in February 2020 in the early days of the pandemic in the United States.  

An old tweet at the early days of the pandemic which was intendent to protect supply lines of PPE for medical professionals is not good advice now.

At the time, some people were beginning to buy up masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) which was placing a strain on medical professionals who need it the most. This was also prior to the widespread availability of PPE alternatives like cloth face masks

According to the CDC website, face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as frequent hand-washing and social distancing, help slow the spread of the virus.

At the start of the pandemic, experts didn’t know the extent to which people with COVID-19 could spread the virus before symptoms appeared. Nor was it known that some people have COVID-19 but don’t have any symptoms. 

Both groups can unknowingly spread the virus to others. 

These discoveries led public health groups to do an about-face on face masks. The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now include face masks in their recommendations for slowing the spread of the virus. 

The CDC recommends cloth face masks for the public and not the surgical and N95 masks needed by health care providers.

The use of the Surgeon General’s early 2020 tweet without context could be misleading.  However, given that SpongeBob wisely disregards the old tweet and puts on his mask, we rate this meme as accurate.

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