COVID source callout: Do not follow this Twitter sensationalist

As discussed earlier in this issue, the CDC’s variant prevalence estimates now include BQ.1 and BQ1.1—two newer sublineages that have evolved from BA.5. The agency started breaking out these subvariants in Friday’s variant data update; their presence was previously included in the overall BA.5 category.

Throughout 2022, as Omicron has continually mutated and produced further lineages, the CDC’s policy has generally been to break out subvariants when they cause at least 1% of all cases in the U.S. Sometimes, though, it can be tricky to distinguish between subvariants, leading to bigger updates like the one we saw this Friday (with BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 both causing more than 5% of cases nationwide).

Again, the CDC’s behavior here is pretty reasonable, in my opinion—especially when one considers that more limited PCR testing these days is making it harder to track new variants. But you might have gotten a different impression if you follow a certain sensationalist personality on Twitter, Eric Feigl-Ding.

I’m not linking to Feigl-Ding’s Tweet, because I don’t want to give him attention. His tweet, which started with “Scoop—MOTHER OF GOD,” painted the CDC’s fairly normal data update as some kind of conspiracy by the agency to prevent Americans from learning the truth about circulating variants.

For more details on why Feigl-Ding’s Tweet here was dangerous, please see this helpful thread by actual genomics expert Duncan MacCannell:

It’s also worth noting that Feigl-Ding has done this kind of thing before, to the point where he has a reputation among legitimate experts for sensationalizing COVID-19 news and misleading his audience. (See this profile for more details.) I have personally had him blocked on Twitter for a while. Basically, do not follow this guy, and be skeptical if you see any of his posts on your timeline.

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