In early July 2020, news of the death of Florida teenager Carsyn Leigh Davis began spreading on social media — alongside rumors the girl, who was purportedly medically fragile, was intentionally exposed to SARS-CoV-2 by her mother:
Versions of the story around Davis’ death were rife across social networks, alongside outrage at the rumored circumstances of how she was infected. In the above post, Twitter user Dara Kass, MD wrote:
A parent sent her daughter to a #COVID party, where she (SHOCKER) got COVID.
[Carsyn’s mother] then treated [Carsyn] at home with HCQ and azithromycin, and her grandfathers O2.
Carsyn died in the [pediatric intensive care unit] PICU a couple of days later.
COVID parties should be illegal.
FloridaCovidVictims.com: Carsyn Leigh Davis and Local News Reporting
Kass linked to a widely-shared page on the site FloridaCovidVictims.com. The site is the work of former Florida Health Department geographic data scientist Rebekah Jones, who was fired in May 2020 after speaking out publicly about the state manipulating COVID-19 data.
That July 5 2020 post read (in part):
[Carsyn Davis] had survived cancer, her mom reported, and was a caring and giving person. She was known for her huge heart and good nature, despite all of her health problems. She had nearly died as a child, but developed a strength and love of life that made everyone around her smile.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement detailed the last two weeks of Carsyn’s life in a public Medical Examiner’s report.
On June 10 , Carysn’s mom, Carole, took Carsyn, a 16-year-old girl who was immuno-compromised with a history of health issues (including cancer), to a large youth event at her church, where more than 100 children without masks were in attendance.
Her mom then prescribed her daughter azithromycin, an anti-bacterial drug with no known benefits for fighting COVID-19, for several days. During that “treatment period,” Carsyn developed headaches, sinus pressure and a cough.
When that still did nothing to combat the cough, the headaches, the sinus infection, the fever, her mother started giving her hydroxychloroquine – a dangerous drug that clinical studies have shown makes a person MORE likely to die of COVID, but was recklessly touted by President Trump for months as a supposed “cure.”
The dangers of using hydroxychloroquine have been known and made public since April .
Carsyn immediately worsened and was finally taken to medical professionals where she admitted to the Pediatric ICU.
The hospital began plasma therapy on June 20-21 , but the damage to Carsyn’s cardio-respiratory system was too severe and she was [ordered] to be intubated on June 22. She died the next day.
She spent her 17th birthday doing plasma therapy in the pediatric ICU, unable to breathe without coughing, in constant pain from the damage COVID-19 was doing her body.
We did not immediately see any claims about “COVID parties” on the site.
The entry’s author was clearly and deeply upset by Carsyn’s death, adding that every “death on this website is heartbreaking, each “minute lost in someone’s life is a tragedy,” but that Carsyn’s death would “stick with [them] long after this virus has torn through our communities.”
A list of “pingbacks” at the bottom of the page indicated subsequent pieces used the verbiage while citing the post:
An update to the top of the FloridaCovidVictims.com page was dated June 7 2020, stating:
Update, June 7, 2020: Since posting this memorial to our site on Sunday (7/5), Carsyn’s story has become a subject of national discussion. If you wish to see the news stories regarding the circumstances around her death, we encourage you to seek out reputable publications, such as The Washington Post, The Tampa Bay Times, and others. While not perfect, these journalists do their best every day to report fairly and accurately. Due to the coverage, we are removing previous content in this post to focus more on Carsyn, and less on the circumstances that led to her death. If you wish to see the original post, click here.
Appended was a PDF, which did contain the “COVID party” language:
So then why in God’s name did her mother take her to a “COVID Party” at their church on June 10 to intentionally expose her immuno-compromised daughter to this virus?
With all the public articles relating to this poor girl’s death on June 23, and all the interviews done with Carsyn’s mother, why did so many fail to ask her why and how Carsyn got sick?
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement detailed the last two weeks of Carsyn’s life in a public Medical Examiner’s report.
On June 10, Carysn’s mom, Carole, took Carsyn, a 16-year-old girl who was immunocompromised with a history of health issues (including cancer), to a “COVID party” at her church, where more than 100 children without masks were in attendance.
Her mom, who is not a doctor, then prescribed her daughter azithromycin, an antibacterial drug with no known benefits for fighting COVID-19, for several days. During that “treatment period,” Carsyn developed headaches, sinus pressure and a cough.
A few days later, without taking her to a doctor, her mother would later report that her daughter “looked gray” on June 19, so she put Carsyn on her grandfather’s oxygen machine.
Noting that Carsyn spent her 17th birthday in intensive care, the post read:
And none of this had to happen.
So far, rumors of contagion-parties (similar to dangerous pox and measles parties) have been just that – rumors.
But here is a story about a girl who actually died from one of these events, and every article written about her death is just Carsyn’s mother talking about how “patriotic” her daughter was. Interview after interview with Carsyn’s mother — who had as much to do with the girl’s death (if not more) as the virus itself — and not one sentence about the absolutely terrible things she did to her own daughter.
First, the large event at the church, with more than 100 unmasked children.
Then, the inappropriate prescription for an anti-bacterial drug.
Then, refusing to take her daughter to the doctor when she couldn’t breathe, opting instead to put her on Carsyn’s grandfather’s oxygen machine.
Then — and this may very well be the thing that killed her – somehow getting her hands on and forcing her daughter to take a drug so dangerous that clinical trials had to be stopped within weeks of starting.
But why? Why would someone be so reckless with their own child’s life?
FloridaCovidVictims.com cited a June 26 2020 Fort Myers News-Press article about Carsyn Davis’ death, titled “Fort Myers teen dies of COVID-19, family is ‘comforted that she is pain free.'” That article did not include details about COVID parties, azithromycin, or hydroxychloroquine.
However, a second link to a PDF hosted on a seemingly related site (floridacovidaction.files.wordpress.com) was published by FloridaCovidVictims.com:
The first page of the two-page document contained many of the details in the original entry on Davis’ June 23 2020 death. It read:
TERMINAL EVENT: 17 year old female with a complex medical history including opsoclonus myoclonus syndrome (resolved at 5 years of age), hypothalamic-pituitary axis dysfunction, precocious puberty, morbid obesity who present with respiratory failure. The decedent’s mother and father are a nurse and physician’s assistant, respectively. On June 10 , the decedent attended a church function with 100 other children. She did not wear a mask. Social distancing was not followed. The parents prophylactically treated her with azithromycin (6/10-6/15 ). On June 13 , she developed frontal headache, sinus pressure, mild cough. The family thought her symptoms were due to a sinus infection. The symptoms persisted. On June 19 , the mother noted she looked “gray” while sleeping. She tested the decedent’s O2 saturation and it was in the 40s. The mother borrowed the decedent’s grandfather’s home oxygen (he has COPD) and her O2 saturation rose to the 60s on 5L. The parents gave her a dose of hydroxychloroquine. The parents took her to Gulf Coast Medical Center and she was transferred to Golisano Hospital PICU. On June 19, 2020, she was found to be positive for SARSCoV-2. Her LFTs were significantly elevated. The parents declined intubation. The decedent received convalescent plasma therapy on June 20 and 21st . On June 22, 2020 the decedent’s condition had not improved and intubation was required. The decedent was intubated. Her cardiorespiratory status continued to decline. On June 22, 2020, despite aggressive therapy and maneuvers, her best O2 saturation was low 70s. The mother requested heroic efforts despite knowing she had low chance of meaningful survival. Preparations were made to perform ECMO on the decedent.
The decedent was transferred from Golisano Hospital to the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital for ECMO. She was transported without incident directly to the cath lab at Nicklaus Children’s for ECMO cannulation. After cannulation she required escalation of inotropic support and vasopressor support. She was transferred to the PICU after the procedure and continued to deteriorate requiring increasing doses of pressors. Chest X-ray was performed and showed severe bilateral infiltrates and subcutaneous emphysema. She developed worsening distributive shock and multiorgan failure. She was to undergo dialysis and plasmapheresis however due to rapid deterioration and inability to bring up oxygen saturation, these interventions were unable to be performed. Echocardiogram was performed and showed no cardiac function, pupils were 5 mm and fixed. She was pronounced dead on 6/23/2020 at 1306.
Although that report did not mention a “COVID party,” it described a June 10 2020 church event:
- “…with 100 other children”;
- At which Carsyn “did not wear a mask”;
- And where “Social distancing was not followed.”
A Basic Timeline of the Events
According to the document:
- Carsyn Davis survived childhood cancer and was possibly immunocompromised;
- On June 10 2020, Carsyn attended a church youth party with 100 other children in attendance;
- At the event, no masks were worn and social distancing was not practiced;
- Carsyn was given the antibiotic azithromycin by her mother between June 10 and 15 2020;
- On June 19 2020, Carsyn “looked gray” and was supplied borrowed, home oxygen;
- On that day, she tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and was hospitalized;
- Her condition continued deteriorating and she was pronounced dead on June 23 2020.
COVID Parties and Phantom Teen Challenges
Just days before Carsyn Davis’ death caused viral outrage, WIRED covered general rumors about “COVID parties,” some of which were spread by state and local officials in various jurisdictions. The article noted that the stories were “implausible” and did not make sense:
THE DREADED “COVID party” has come to Alabama. Even as the number of hospitalized coronavirus patients in the state reached record highs, news came out this week that college students in Tuscaloosa have been throwing parties with infected guests, then betting on the contagion that ensues. “They put money in a pot and they try to get Covid,” said City Council member Sonya McKinstry. “Whoever gets Covid first gets the pot. It makes no sense.”
That much, at least, is true: This story makes no sense. Despite its implausibility and utter lack of valid sourcing, the fantasy of Alabama virus gamblers has nonetheless exploded across the internet, with slack-jawed coverage turning up in CNN, the New York Post, and the Associated Press, among many others. A representative headline declares, “Tuscaloosa students held parties, bet on who got coronavirus first.”
This is not the first reporting on the spread of Covid parties, which are, in fact, neither happening nor spreading. Back in March, Kentucky governor Andy Beshear announced during a daily public-health update that one case in the state had been tied to a “coronavirus party.” “We ought to be much better than that,” he said. “We should forgive that person, but no more of these—anywhere, statewide, ever, for any reason.” His one-sentence anecdote, presented without any further detail, was dutifully passed along as news by CNN, NPR, The Washington Post, and other outlets.
It went on to describe how the notion anyone organized or attended “COVID parties” went from scuttlebutt to published news:
The latest version of the tale, from Alabama, follows the same pattern as the others. It appears to be the product of a weird game of telephone mixed with loose talk from public officials and disgracefully sloppy journalism. On Tuesday, Tuscaloosa fire chief Randy Smith told the city council that his department had heard about parties “where students or kids would come in with known positives.” It sounded like just a rumor, Smith said, but “not only did the doctors’ offices help confirm it, but the state also confirmed they had the same information.”
You’ll notice immediately that Smith didn’t say anything about people trying to get sick, let alone betting on who could do it first. So why is everyone saying that’s what happened? The notion seems to have originated with McKinstry, who shared it with ABC News after the meeting. It’s not clear whether McKinstry had a source for this idea, and she did not reply to WIRED’s request for comment. The Alabama Department of Health responded with a statement that it “has not been able to verify such parties have taken place.” It’s not even clear that the fire chief had it right about kids going to parties while knowing they were sick. (The Tuscaloosa Fire Department did not reply to a request for comment, either.) But that didn’t stop the dogpile of national media outlets repeating and amplifying the Covid betting-pot story as if it were fact.
At the time Carsyn’s death became a topic of debate, the idea of “COVID parties” was concurrently part of the coronavirus discourse. While WIRED correctly observed the concept of COVID parties made “no sense,” news of the girl’s preventable death after attending a purportedly careless church youth party was nearly guaranteed to cement the rumors as factual occurrences.
WIRED also drew parallels between early 2000s rumors about “pharm parties” — in which teenagers were said to mix their parents’ medications in a bowl and consume them indiscriminately — a phenomenon that caused widespread hand-wringing despite little evidence any such party ever occurred anywhere at any time:
Do pharm parties exist?
Back in 2006, I concluded “no” after investigating a smattering of press stories about teenagers raiding their parents’ medicine cabinets for pharmaceuticals, gathering to share their booty in a big bowl, and swallowing the pills at random like “trail mix.” My two pieces ran on June 15 and June 19 of that year.
My efforts to discredit pharm parties failed horribly, as everybody from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times to the Washington Post to the Birmingham News to ABC News to the Sacramento Bee to the Los Angeles Times to Marie Osmond on Larry King Live has continued to report as if the medicinal revelries not only exist but are common.
Over the years, we have addressed dozens of parental panics about fake teen challenges and social media challenges, a phenomenon which clearly antedates the prevalence of sites like TikTok and Instagram. An early and widespread panic arose around a similarly nonsensical rumor about “rainbow parties,” chronicled by now-defunct site Gawker alongside the related “teen sex bracelets” rumor:
2002 – 2006
Is your teen… going to parties where each girl wears a different shade of lipstick and performs oral sex on each boy in succession, creating a (smudged, one would imagine) rainbow?
Is it real? As with pharm parties, there’s no evidence at all that rainbow parties have ever taken place.
Height: A 2003 Oprah special, “Is Your Child Leading a Double Life?”
Outcome: A young adult novel called Rainbow Party.
Sample Articles: “Over the rainbow: Oral sex among teens is new spin the bottle” (San Francisco Chronicle, 10/23/05); “Parenting Alert: Teen Sex” (WOWT, 2/5/2004).
Teen Sex Bracelets
2003 – Ongoing
Is your teenager… collecting gel or snap bracelets that signify that she has done, or is willing to do, a specific sexual act?
Is it real? No. I mean, not even a little bit.
Height: A 2003 AP article “Fun Fashion, Or Sex Signal?”
Outcome: Thousands of forwarded emails.
Sample Articles: “Police: Teens pass sexual messages with wristbands” (ABC-4 Salt Lake City, 4/1/2010); “Teen Sex Trends To Snap Parents Into Reality” (WMTW, 11/11/2004).
By 2020, nearly any viral topic of discussion could spawn its own “challenge” sub-rumor, a phenomenon which once again reared its head after the death of George Floyd. “COVID parties” were not even the first imaginary challenge panic to stem from the COVID-19 pandemic; on March 26 2020, we fact-checked the claim that a “coronavirus challenge” was sweeping Instagram and TikTok (it wasn’t):
Vestiges of national reporting about a “church coronavirus party” could be easily found on circulating posts about the controversy. Newsweek changed its headline from “Florida Teen Dies After Mother Took Her to Church Coronavirus Party, Then Treated Her With Hydroxychloroquine” to “Florida Teen Who Contracted Coronavirus Dies After Mother Took Her to Church Party, Then Treated Her With Hydroxychloroquine,” adding a note at the bottom of the page:
Correction: This headline has been updated to say the church hosted a party, not a coronavirus party as previously stated. More information was added to the story regarding the nature of the party.
A July 6 2020 Washington Post article about the viral story reported:
Carsyn’s case, which gained renewed interest on [June 5 2020] after it was publicized by Florida data scientist Rebekah Jones, drew fierce backlash from critics, including a number of medical professionals, who condemned the actions taken by the teen’s family in the weeks before her death. Florida has more than 206,000 reported cases of coronavirus and 3,880 deaths as of early [June 7 2020].
In a scathing write-up on her Florida COVID Victims site, Jones described the church gathering as a “COVID Party.” She alleged that Brunton Davis took Carsyn to the event to “intentionally expose her immuno-compromised daughter to this virus.”
First Youth Church/First Assembly of God of Fort Myers Addresses Backlash via Instagram
In a June 7 2020 Instagram post, @firstyouthchurch denied holding a “COVID party” or “coronavirus party” on June 10 2020:
Their statement read in full:
Over the past 24 hours First Assembly of God of Fort Myers has been accused of hosting “COVID-19 parties.“ Nothing could be farther from the truth. First Assembly of God of Fort Myers is following all of the health protections & protocols recommended by the state & local government with regard to holding its church services. Let us be clear – media reports & postings accusing the church of ignoring protocols or actively engaging in behavior intended to expose our congregation to the virus are absolutely false & defamatory.
It is heartbreaking that a young lady who frequently attended Youth Church over the past few years has recently passed away. The church, & many members of Youth Church particularly, had reached out to her family & her during her illness, praying for her & sending video messages & personal encouragement while she was going through her illness & in the hospital. Out of respect for her family, & at their request, the church did not comment to the media about her illness & her passing. The church intends to continue to honor that request. Our sympathies go out to her entire family during this tragic period of their lives.
Nonetheless, due to irresponsible reporting & reprehensible posting of speculation & innuendo about her care during her illness, the accuracy of which is suspect, media stories have perpetuated, including unfounded claims that she attended what has been described as a “COVID-19 party“ at the church. Those allegations are absolutely false & are based upon irresponsible speculation & inaccurate information.
Because those false reports have been picked up, perpetuated & posted throughout national, local & social media, the church has been subject to a relentless attack & finds itself forced to make this statement in an effort to get the truth out.
First Assembly of God of Fort Myers has always tried to be a leader in promoting caring, compassion, reason & the love of Jesus Christ in this community & throughout the world. Despite these false accusations, the church will continue to follow the lead of Jesus & hope that the actions of our love for others, & the history of those efforts, speak for us.
Nothing in the post directly refuted the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s documentation that the party involved more than 100 children, lacked masked, and did not involve social distancing. The post’s wording was vague, simply describing claims about “COVID parties” as “false reports.”
Every Party is a COVID Party in an Active Pandemic
It is tempting to ascribe transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 to an outlandishly implausible behavior (such as COVID parties), and argue about that. But the underlying truth of the matter — that Carsyn was likely infected not by intent, but carelessness — involved a reality many readers appeared to opt to ignore. Simply by merit of being a large gathering in an area in which coronavirus was spreading, the party (like all parties in a pandemic) could be described as a “COVID party.”
The irrelevance of intent itself is uncomfortable, tarring events as seemingly wholesome as church youth parties with the risk they truly represent. Carsyn Davis’ death underscored a lot of controversial elements of the role of the virus in culture and discourse. Nowhere, not even church, is safe, and no one, not even those under the age of 18, are immune to the specter of disease and death.
It is true Carsyn Davis died in Florida on June 23 2020, days after she turned 17, and further true that Carsyn attended an ill-advised church youth party on June 10 2020 — although it remains possible that she was infected elsewhere. It was true she was treated with azithromycin (an antibiotic) and hydroxychloroquine (a controversial anti-malarial) by her mother before she was hospitalized and died. Other elements of the story were less clear, however, and the sad details of Carsyn’s death led to a rise in rumors about “COVID parties,” a phenomenon often discussed and reported but unlikely to be an authentic “trend.”