Have you ever heard the phrase, “Don’t believe everything you hear?” Well, yet another newscaster has made that phrase applicable to the American public.
An Atlanta-based newscaster inspired panic on Wednesday afternoon after reporting that the National Weather Service had issued a warning for those visiting the Florida Panhandle. It’s vacation season, which means the report impacted large numbers of people all over the United States and Florida locals as well. According to News Herald, the reporter went on television to assert the waters contained “really toxic levels of a fecal bacteria,” which he went on to describe as “flesh-eating bacteria.”
WJHG reported on the incident as well, stating, “A video on WSB’s Facebook page of this broadcast had been viewed more than 1.5 million times in less than 5 hours Wednesday.”
Verbatim, the weatherman provided viewers with the following information.
“If you’re headed down to the Florida Panhandle beaches to cool off this weekend, be advised now, ‘No Swim’ advisories are being issued by the National Weather Services and toxic fecal bacteria big problem now Fort Walton Beach, Destin, Miramar Beach, Seaside and Rosemary Beach. So ‘No Swim’ advisories are in effect for really toxic levels of fecal bacteria. That along with very toxic blue-green algae. Now, you’re gonna see signs if you’re headed down to these beaches that are posted where we have these ‘No Swim’ advisories. So just be advised that when you head down there, we could see these toxic levels of fecal bacteria continuing and very dangerous to swim in these waters. And you know they call this kind of the flesh-eating bacteria and that’s what we’re dealing with now in these Florida Panhandle beaches. So just wanted to advise you of that and again the local health departments will be posting signs all along those Florida beaches to keep you advised as you head down there this holiday weekend.”
The dangers of flesh-eating bacteria are very real, which means false reports like this are detrimental to both state officials and individual citizens alike.
— Michael Adcock (@DreagontheGiant) July 21, 2016
To make matters worse, the National Weather Service doesn’t even issue swim advisories. Health officials in Florida clarified that both descriptions were entirely false.
Dr. Karen Chapman, the director of the Florida Department of Health for Okaloosa County, told reporters, “What (the newscaster) is saying is incorrect. Enterococci (which is the scientific name for fecal bacteria) is not the same thing as vibrio vulnificus (a much-feared flesh-eating bacteria).”
How to Watch Out for ‘Flesh-Eating’ Bacteria This Summer – ABC News http://t.co/jIRFIb789i Florida Flesh Eating Virus Claims Another Life
— Phil (@Wild_Phil) June 30, 2015
“We measure for a fecal bacteria called enterococci,” she added. “We just alert people to the fact that at the point in time we did testing, there were elevated levels of enterococci.”
As of now, there’s no clear indication where the misinformed weatherman got his information, but the history of flesh-eating bacteria in Florida waters is no laughing matter, so it’s not surprising that people were gripped by fear. Not too long ago, ABC News reported that Vibrio vulnificus in the Florida ocean hospitalized 13 and killed three others.
Fecal toxicity levels in the water weren’t enough to prompt officials to close beaches or even to post warning signs.
“Whenever you go to swim in a natural body of water, you have to exercise safety precautions,” Chapman confirmed. “But we have not seen any flesh eating bacteria in Okaloosa County this year.”
The newscaster, who is a weatherman for WSB-TV, has since retracted his story. But that didn’t stop him from causing mayhem with his tale. The story was widely shared on social media, and vacationers were put on high-alert, especially since alerts of this kind have proven accurate in the past.
— NยвรEηvGMOฬคtςђ (@NubsEnvGMOWatch) July 17, 2016
Officials worked feverishly to get the chaos under control and to change the message that was already running wild on social media. Their efforts started with a request that the ill-informed weatherman retract his original report. That ill-informed weatherman is Glenn Burns, the chief meteorologist for WSB-TV.
Burns was willing to respond and retracted his story with a statement posted on Facebook.
“Hi folks! I gave you some wrong information earlier and want to make absolutely sure you have the facts.”
Naturally, the original story got a lot more attention than the retraction. To further clear things up, the National Weather Service issued a statement that they do not issue swim advisories and such reports should be considered false.
The statement asserted, “The National Weather Service in Mobile, AL has not issued any sort of swimming advisory. That sort of advisory is issued by the Florida Department of Health, not the NWS.”
[Photo by Media for Medical/Getty Images]