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In August 2021, social media users enthusiastically shared a photograph of what appeared to be a woman wearing medical scrubs, holding a placard that opposed COVID-19 vaccination mandates for health care workers, a topic of growing controversy in the summer of 2021.
The picture was posted and shared in various online forums, but Danish Facebook user Kenn Jensen received hundreds of thousands of shares in less than a week for his Aug. 11 post. In the photo, the woman’s placard reads:
573 days face to face with Covid patients while unvaccinated.
Never got Covid.
I have an immune system.
Don’t mandate my choices!
Initially, Snopes was unable to identify the woman shown in the photograph, or where it was taken, or when. However, we have now identified the woman in the photograph, and contacted her directly, as well as pinpointing the location where it was taken, and the date.
The woman in the photograph is formally registered as a nurse in New Hampshire, according to records held by the state’s Board of Nursing, a division of the Office of Professional Licensure and Certification. The photograph was taken in Lebanon, New Hampshire, on Aug. 7, 2021 at a protest against the Dartmouth-Hitchcock hospital system’s decision to require all employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, by October 2021.
So this element of her claims is accurate — she is indeed a healthcare professional. However, we have not been able to verify her claim that she worked “face to face” with COVID-19 patients during the pandemic, or that she did not contract the virus.
Furthermore, her claim that she treated COVID-19 patients for 573 days is demonstrably false. The first COVID-19 case in New Hampshire was recorded on March 2, 2020 — 552 days before the photograph was taken on Aug. 7, 2021. It’s not clear to what the figure of “573 days” refers, or how it was calculated. As a result of these considerations, we are changing our rating from “Unproven” to “Mixture.”
Why Snopes is not naming the woman in the photograph
The woman posed for photographs at a public event, and voluntarily injected her own personal experience into the public debate around vaccine mandates, by making detailed claims about her professional and private health history, in the placard she posed with. Those actions carried a foreseeable risk of leading to public exposure online, and they invited public scrutiny of her own personal and professional background and history. However, Snopes has decided on this occasion not to name the woman in the photograph, for two main reasons.
Firstly, we have not found any evidence that she herself posted the picture online, or courted any publicity from it. She is part of a protest movement against vaccine mandates in New Hampshire, and several others from that movement — including the woman’s own husband — have posted and shared the picture of her online. However, she herself has not, and she told Snopes she was uncomfortable with the attention the photograph had received, and was not responsible for its initial posting online.
Secondly, because the photograph has been shared so widely online, and seen by millions of people around the world, the risk of harassment and even harm to the woman, in the event that her name becomes public, is non-trivial. Although there are journalistic and public interest justifications for naming her (for example, in order to allow readers to verify our assessments of the accuracy of her claims), Snopes cannot take actions that lead to a foreseeable risk of harm or harassment of a private citizen, even one who posed for photographs at a public event related to a matter of public controversy.
How we identified the woman in the photograph
The location where the picture was taken was first discovered by Brecht Castel, a journalist who writes for the Belgian fact-checking website Knack. On Facebook, Castel found another photograph of the same woman, holding the same sign, which was posted on Aug. 8:
By piecing together fragments of signs in the background of this second picture, he found that the location of the protest was Centerra Parkway in Lebanon, New Hampshire — close to the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, a prominent hospital in the state.
As it turns out, the photographs were taken on Aug. 7, at a protest near the hospital. A few days earlier, Dartmouth-Hitchcock announced that it would be requiring all its workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, by September 30, as a condition of continued employment.
Snopes then discovered the name of the woman, after examining social media profiles associated with dozens of people who had “liked” or engaged with online posts related to the anti-vaccine mandate protest movement.
We sent her multiple questions, asking about her work status, her experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether she had been threatened with dismissal if she refused to be vaccinated, and whether she had used personal protective equipment, like face masks, at work, in light of the claim that she had come “face to face” with COVID-19 patients. The woman did not respond to most of our questions, but claimed to work as an emergency department nurse in New Hampshire.
In an effort to verify some of the woman’s claims, Snopes contacted a healthcare organization in New Hampshire, which appears likely to be her employer, based on past social media content and other circumstantial evidence. However, the organization would not say whether or not she was an employee.
As a result, we can’t verify certain important details, such as whether the woman worked in healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, or whether, and how, she used face masks and other PPE when treating patients.