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Flight of the Influencers – The New York Times

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread across the United States, many influencers are using their platforms to educate their followers about symptoms and testing, and to encourage them to stay inside.

The TikTok star Charli D’Amelio, for instance, started a “distance dancechallenge to promote social distancing. In an effort to make the diagnostic process more transparent, the YouTuber Joe Vulpis and his girlfriend shared a video about testing positive for Covid-19. The parenting blogger Ilana Wiles, who is currently self-quarantining, posted on Saturday about the need for others who are symptomatic, or have been in contact with a symptomatic person, to do the same. Doctors and nurses on social media have also been working to debunk coronavirus myths and promote public health measures.

According to CreatorIQ, an influencer marketing platform, engagement on influencer posts about the coronavirus has surpassed 2.9 billion impressions. And as the U.S. population has become largely homebound, screen time is way up.

But some of the posts circulating on social media display behavior that defies current guidelines to cease nonessential travel. A few high-profile lifestyle influencers, for example, have posted about fleeing New York City to smaller towns and other states, potentially endangering local communities and inadvertently encouraging their followers to do the same.

On March 26, just eight days after she tested positive for Covid-19, the fashion influencer Arielle Charnas alerted her 1.3 million followers that she would be leaving her Manhattan apartment with her husband and daughters and heading to a house in the Hamptons. The next day she posted a photo of herself and her daughter strolling around the neighborhood. When people got angry, she turned off the comments on her posts.

On Saturday, Naomi Davis, a New York City lifestyle blogger known online as Taza, shared that she and her family were also leaving the city and “heading west” in an RV. “My heart is breaking for what is happening in New York where I live and around the world right now,” she wrote in the post. “And after two full weeks in the apartment, we made the family decision to drive out west so we can have a little more space (namely some outdoor space for the kids) for a little while.”

This week, the food blogger Ali Maffucci also left the New York metropolitan area for Florida with her family. She said that none of them are symptomatic, but she believes that people in her building may be sick.

In an Instagram post that has since been deleted, Ms. Maffucci wrote of living in “a high-rise building with hundreds of people” and fearing that every time she and her family leave to run errands, “we’re at risk of contracting Covid-19.” They can’t breathe fresh air without “worrying,” she wrote in the post, and “after I saw a woman collapse in our lobby, I couldn’t stay there anymore.”

All three women stressed that, upon reaching their destinations, they would take precautions to avoid the spread of disease. Ms. Charnas said in a statement through her publicist that she is following “doctor’s recommendations to a tee” and taking “every precaution to ensure we did not and will not come into contact, six feet apart or otherwise, with any other individual for the foreseeable future.”

Ms. Maffucci said her family would quarantine for two weeks upon their arrival in Florida. She also packed food for the road to eliminate unnecessary stops. Ms. Davis posted that she decided to rent an RV in order to avoid hotels and also packed meals so as to limit outside human interaction.

Followers and medical experts, however, were not satisfied with these measures.

“I think it’s really dangerous and personally idiotic,” said Dr. Darien Sutton, an emergency room physician who has been using social media to educate the public about the coronavirus. “When I see these influencers travel around, I think they’re setting a really poor example of how to appropriately act during a pandemic. You have to hold yourself accountable for the possibility of transmitting this virus to people who are more vulnerable, and there’s no way to be 100 percent sure you don’t have the virus.”

Followers of all three influencers were outraged. “I can’t understand Arielle Charnas testing positive, sharing it with everybody, then neglecting self-isolation,” the podcast host and influencer Kate Kennedy said Monday in an Instagram Story. “If I was watching her experience and that was my depiction of Coronavirus what would I think? That it’s unserious.” She criticized Ms. Charnas for “perceiving C.D.C. guidelines as optional.”

“You are literally an influencer, and this will influence people to make similar (irresponsible and selfish) choices,” a commenter wrote on Ms. Maffucci’s post. Ms. Davis did not respond to a request for comment.

“We all make mistakes,” Ms. Charnas said in an email statement, “including me, especially when a crisis such as this is developing so quickly. My family and I apologize to those we have offended for not appearing to be taking this crisis seriously, but I am absolutely committed to making informed, responsible decisions for my family and community.”

Ms. Maffucci said that the decision to leave her apartment was not one that she took lightly. She was prepared for the backlash, but she ultimately felt that her family would be safer in Florida.

“When people say, ‘Why do you think you can go and just spread it around?’ I don’t think they understand that if I stay home in Jersey City I risk interacting with and infecting more people than staying in a private home in Florida where I’m self-quarantining for 14 days and able to see nobody but my family,” she said.

“I think that the public health officials, of course, say shelter in place, but what they’re not taking into consideration are all those situations like mine,” she added. “I think we do have a responsibility as influencers to go along with what public health officials are saying. But also, we’re scared. This is the decision we made and we tried to make it safely.”

Mordechai Sacks, a physician assistant and primary care provider at Larchmont Family Medicine, said that the idea that any of these people are safer in smaller communities or other states is a flawed one. Many vacation towns have fewer medical resources to deal with a sudden onslaught of sick and contagious out-of-towners, and Florida is full of older citizens, who are at higher risk of becoming critically ill with the virus, he said. “New York City is by far better equipped to deal with this,” Mr. Sacks said. “We have a bunch of top hospitals, we have leadership who are doing the right thing, and top clinicians.”

“The Hamptons is an example of a community that’s not used to having this volume,” said Dara Kass, associate professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. “The townships are very nervous, because their local hospitals and facilities are not built for people living there full time, they’re not staffed up right now. A lot of these vacation communities people flee to are at capacity.” Traveling also endangers at-risk people these influencers or their families may come into contact with on the way.

The primary issue many medical experts take issue with, however, is not the influencers’ decision to leave the city against public health guidelines, but that they’re promoting this message to potentially millions of people.

“Some of these social media influencers would be a lot better off using their platform to amplify public health officials,” Dr. Kass said, but at minimum, they should “acknowledge what public health officials are telling people.”

“If you’re going to do something that counters public health messaging,” she added, “don’t put it on social media.”

What do you think?

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