Police across the country are issuing fake warnings about meth infected with coronavirus—and a health expert is none too pleased. Police departments in St. Francis County, Ark.; Johnson City, Texas; Taveres, Fla.; and Decatur County, Kan.; are among those that have shared the warning about COVID-19, which has killed more than 2,800 people worldwide. See this post from police in Merrill, Wis., which asks anyone concerned to bring in their meth for free testing, as an example. It was all a hoax, designed to fool the odd drug user, as with previous warnings about Zika and Ebola, per the Washington Post and USA Today. But plenty of people saw it as irresponsible. "I would rather not see police departments making 'jokes' like this online or posting false information about a pandemic," reads one typical comment on the Merrill post.
"I think they're taking it a little too literally … I can't help that," Merrill Police Chief Corey Bennett tells the Wausau Daily Herald. Still, the post was updated Thursday to reflect that it had "sparked a lot of opinions, emotions, and touched some tender spots." No apology was offered, however. "We will take those easy grabs at removing poison from our community whenever we can," police said. "That is our role which we un-apologetically must fulfill." Stefano M. Bertozzi, dean emeritus at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, tells the Post that the move may backfire. With 60 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US, "this is a time when people need to be taking public health authorities very seriously," he says. "They're undermining their credibility that will be very much needed if and when an epidemic comes to their community." (Read more coronavirus stories.)