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Photo: Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

A federal judge has sentenced a Texas man to 15 months in prison for perpetrating a hoax about COVID-19 last year.

Why it matters: The sentence comes as the government navigates new challenges related to pandemic fraud, including online misinformation and falsified vaccine documentation.

The big picture: Christopher Charles Perez made false claims in an April 5, 2020, Facebook post about a grocery store in San Antonio, federal prosecutors say.

  • "My homeboys cousin has covid19 and has licked everything for past two days cause we paid him too," Perez wrote. "YOU’VE BEEN WARNED."
  • Though the post was taken down after 16 minutes, someone anonymously submitted a screenshot of Perez's words to a network of law enforcement agencies called the Southwest Texas Fusion Center.

Of note: Perez later told the FBI that he had been trying to frighten people into avoiding public places "to stop them from spreading the virus," according to a federal affidavit.

  • He was found guilty of disseminating false information and hoaxes related to biological weapons in June.

What they're saying: "Perez’s actions were knowingly designed to spread fear and panic and today’s sentencing illustrates the seriousness of this crime," FBI San Antonio division special agent in charge Christopher Combs said in a statement.

  • "Trying to scare people with the threat of spreading dangerous diseases is no joking matter," U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff added.
  • "This office takes seriously threats to harm the community and will prosecute them to the full extent of the law."
  • Perez's lawyer has filed a notice with the court stating intent to pursue an appeal of Perez's conviction.

For the record: The U.S. attorney general established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force in May.

Go deeper

Updated 11 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker
Jan 15, 2022 - Health

Students across U.S. walkout of classes to demand safer COVID protocols

Public school students protest outside of the Chicago Public Schools headquarters after walking out of their classrooms on Jan. 14 in Chicago. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Students in Boston and Chicago walked out of classes on Friday in protest, demanding a return to remote learning as the Omicron variant surges across the country.

Driving the news: The walkouts come two days after 340,000 Chicago students returned to the classroom after a five-day work stoppage due to the Chicago Teachers Union asking for tougher COVID-19 restrictions.

Jan 15, 2022 - Health

WHO recommends 2 new COVID treatments

A patient in the red zone of a COVID-19 ward at an emergency clinical hospital in Volgograd, Russia. Photo: Dmitry Rogulin/TASS via Getty Images

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Friday that it has recommended two new drugs to treat COVID.

Why it matters: The recommendations come as cases spike around the world, and could especially serve lower-income countries that have struggled to contain the disease due to lack of vaccines and other medical necessities.