Did Coronavirus Vaccine Story Run Same Day as Reports of Kobe’s Death?

News of the NBA legend's death overshadowed the emerging COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. in late January 2020.

  • Published 20 March 2020

Claim

USA Today published a front-page article about the development of a COVID-19 vaccine the same day Kobe Bryant's death was reported.

Origin

At the end of January 2020, one news story grabbed the attention of most Americans: the death of retired NBA basketball star Kobe Bryant and eight other people in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. That tragedy dominated the U.S. news cycle for several days afterwards, while not so many Americans were paying much attention to the emerging COVID-19 coronavirus disease that at the time had (apparently) sickened only a handful of persons in the U.S.

Fast forward a couple of months to March 2020, and COVID-19 was a global pandemic capturing the attention of virtually all Americans as state and federal agencies scrambled to implement means of keeping the virus from spreading while providing medical care to persons already sickened by it. Some readers were then surprised to see that two months earlier, USA Today had run a front-page article (in the same edition that reported Bryant’s death) about a “rush” to “develop a vaccine for coronavirus”:

The pictured article about a coronavirus cure did indeed run in the print edition of USA Today on Jan. 27, 2020 (while the online version of the article was dated Jan. 24). The report noted that “Drugmakers are hustling to make a vaccine to counter the rapidly spreading respiratory virus that has sickened at least 1,975 people in China and five in the United States”:

This timing should have come as no surprise to anyone paying attention to the news at the time, even if only a few Americans had been affected at that point. The disease caused by the novel coronavirus was dubbed COVID-19 because it was initially reported in 2019, and by the time the USA Today article was published, some 36 million people in Wuhan and three other Chinese cities had been put on lockdown, the CDC had confirmed the first coronavirus cases in the United States, and other COVID-19 cases had been reported in Thailand and South Korea.