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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

22 hours ago - Health

Appeals court declines to block Maine vaccine mandate

A health worker prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination. Photo: Camilo Freedman/APhotografia/Getty Images

A federal appeals court on Friday denied an emergency request to block a COVID-19 vaccine mandate from going into effect in Maine, the Associated Press reports.

Driving the news: The mandate, which Gov. Janet Mills (D) announced in August, requires health care workers in Maine to get vaccinated by Oct. 29 or face losing their jobs.

Updated 17 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: Booster shots overtake first doses in the U.S. — Pfizer to vaccinate entire Brazilian city as part of study — FDA panel endorses shot of J&J booster for adultsU.S. to lift restrictions for fully vaccinated international travelers on Nov. 8.
  2. Health: New cases down, but the West is at risk — Low vaccination rates exacerbate America's caregiving crisis — COVID is here to stay. So what does "victory" look like? — FDA will review Merck COVID-19 pill.
  3. Politics: NHL announces all but four players have been vaccinated — WHO names new advisory group on COVID origins — Biden admin warns Moderna to "step up" global vaccine supply.
  4. Education: LA extends deadline for school employee vaccinations amid staffing shortage — Parent sues Wisconsin school district after child tests positive — Arizona can't use aid for anti-mask education grants, Treasury says.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Oct 15, 2021 - Health

State COVID lotteries did not increase vaccination rates, study finds

California Gov. Gavin Newsom at a drawing for the state's Vax for the Win program in June. Photo: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

None of the 19 states that implemented statewide COVID-19 vaccine lotteries this summer saw an increase in vaccination rates as a result of the incentive programs, according to a study published Friday in Jama Health Forum.

Why it matters: The study is the first to examine the effectiveness of 19 state-run lotteries, and offers insight into how governments can better craft incentive-based policies, said Andrew Friedson, one of the study's authors and an associate professor of economics at the University of Colorado Denver.