While the COVID-19 infection and death rates in the United States continue to climb, some right-wing media figures are using photos and videos of empty hospital parking lots and waiting rooms to somehow prove that the situation is not as bad as the media is portraying.
Proponents of the conspiracy theory are downplaying the severity of the crisis and claiming that nearly empty hospital parking lots and waiting rooms are signs that the number of coronavirus cases is being exaggerated by the media.They are also encouraging others to investigate local medical facilities and share their videos and photos along with the phrase “empty hospitals” or the hashtag “#FilmYourHospital” (the latter originated from an account that supports the QAnon conspiracy theory). Indeed, two other QAnon conspiracy theorists — Liz Crokin and former congressional candidate DeAnna Lorraine Tesoriero — have pushed the conspiracy theory online as well.
On Sunday, Fox News host Steve Hilton hosted a panel discussion about supposed free speech concerns around coronavirus on his show. Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz began by saying, “I would love to see statistics, for instance, on how full our hospitals really are. I mean, I see these passionate -- you know, these people coming out of caring for these people, and it's hard to watch and I believe them from their heart -- but I would love to know what those real numbers are.” Fox News contributor Sara Carter responded, “People are driving by their hospitals and they're not seeing -- in the ones that I'm seeing -- they’re not seeing anybody in the parking lots. They're not seeing anybody drive up. So, people are wondering what's going inside the hospital. How many people are actually in the hospitals that are suffering from coronavirus, how many ventilators, are the ICUs really being filled, how full are they?”
Starnes’ vid was also shared by the far-right Patriot Prayer group on Facebook.
Far-right social media figures have also begun pushing the theory, including racist YouTube troll Joseph Saladino, who last year launched and subsequently folded a campaign for Congress in Staten Island.
As the campaign continues to spread from right-wing figures on social media, more people have begun promoting the “empty hospitals” conspiracy theory: