Fact check: 2020 US quarter raises awareness of Samoan fruit bat, not linked to pandemic

The claim: The new bat design on the U.S. quarter is evidence the government kept COVID-19 hidden

According to several social  media  users, the new bat design on the 2020 U.S. quarter proves the government knew about the coronavirus pandemic before the first confirmed case and kept it hidden.

“It says it was made in 2020 upside down. It also says there’s a bat and a baby bat: Where did COVID originate from according to our government?” one of the posts reads. “How do they know to put a bat on our currency or the burning twin towers on a 20 dollar bill and lie to us, and act like they don’t know?”

Other users argue the coin is evidence that the virus was man-made by the government.

A live video shared more than 1,300 times on Facebook says the bat design is the government’s way of “laughing in the face of everybody else.” 

“I don’t believe for one second the pandemic was an accident, and I don’t believe it’s an accident that 10 years from now, when we look back at the 2020 quarter, you’ll have two bats looking at you,” said Stevie Leydig in the Facebook Live video.

“I doubt it’s just a coincidence!! But it’s cute,” responded user Jolene Shank in another post, which has been shared almost 100 times.

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USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook users for comment. 

Bat design shows Samoan fruit bats

The bat design, which depicts a Samoan fruit bat mother and her pup, is part of the America the Beautiful Quarters Program, by the U.S. Mint. The program started in 2010 and has since released 51 new designs showcasing national parks across the United States and its territories.

“The design is intended to promote awareness to the species’ threatened status due to habitat loss and commercial hunting,” a description by the U.S. Mint reads. 

The Samoan fruit bat is native to American Samoa and can only be found in the Samoan Archipelago and Fiji, according to the National Park Service.

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While COVID-19 has become synonymous with bats, it’s still unclear whether the winged mammals are the actual viral source. 

This is because of the way viruses evolve and mutate with each new host infected, giving rise to mutants with improved genetic survival and offensive skills. Fruit bats’ smaller cousin horseshoe bats have been identified as a potential coronavirus reservoir – an animal population found to harbor the virus. These animals, along with scaly-skinned mammals called pangolins, may have spread it to humans but the problem is, they, or another unknown animal, may only be an intermediary, leaving a direct viral progenitor still at large. 

The mystery behind COVID-19’s origins has left room for another theory that the virus was accidentally leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

This controversial hypothesis has been dismissed as “extremely unlikely” by a recent World Health Organization inquiry in late March. The agency’s evidence centers around the fact the three laboratories in Wuhan working with coronaviruses were “well-managed… with no reporting of COVID-19 compatible respiratory illness” prior to December 2019. 

One laboratory run by the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention had moved a few weeks prior near where cases first emerged at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market but the WHO stated there was no evidence the site had reported any lab leaks before the outbreak.

While the report has earned some criticism for the lack of thorough investigation into the lab-leak theory, it’s important to note most experts believe that route unlikely given other coronaviruses, like severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, have occurred because of a jump from animals to humans.  

Design chosen in 2019, before first coronavirus case

The designs of the 2020 coins were released on Aug. 13, 2019, before the first coronavirus case. The process of selecting designs is complex: First, the U.S. Mint requests each jurisdiction submit four national sites to be considered for the program. Once each jurisdiction has submitted the sites, the U.S. Mint will establish a candidate list with 56 national sites and confirm that the sites match the criteria of the program with the Interior Department secretary. The U.S. Mint will then recommend the final candidates to the secretary of the Treasury, who will approve the choices. 

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The first positive coronavirus case was reported by the World Health Organization on Jan. 9, 2020. WHO said Chinese authorities had determined that the outbreak of viral pneumonia cases in the country was, in fact, caused by a novel coronavirus. By Jan. 14, the WHO said there were 41 confirmed cases in China.

The first case in the United States was reported on Jan. 21, 2020, according to a WHO timeline of events. One of the claims argues the fruit bat coin was released the same month as the first coronavirus-confirmed case, but it was first released on Feb. 13. By then, there were 15 cases, according to the CDC. 

The other 2020 quarters honor the Weir Farm National Historic Site in Connecticut; the Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve in the U.S. Virgin Island; the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Vermont; and the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas. 

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While other animals have been depicted in previous coins from the program, like the butterfly in the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve coin from 2020 or the bison on the 2010 Yellowstone National Park quarter, this is the first bat to ever appear on a quarter, according to U.S. Mint image records detailing every coin created in the program.

The last coin of the program was released in February, honoring the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Site in Alabama.

Our rating: False

The conspiracy theory that the new bat design on U.S. quarter coins is related to a government plot to hide the coronavirus that has led to the COVID-19 pandemic is FALSE, based on our research. The Samoan fruit bat depicted on the 2020 coin was part of a national program that has been designing new coins for a decade to honor national parks across the United States. The release of a quarter with a bat at the beginning of the pandemic is an apparent coincidence, as the design was chosen and announced months before the first positive coronavirus case. 

Our fact-check sources:

  • United States Mint, accessed April 14, America the Beautiful Quarters program
  • United States Mint, accessed April 14, National Park of American Samoa Quarter
  • National Park Service, accessed April 14, National Park of American Samoa
  • The Conversation, April 5, 2020, “How do viruses mutate and jump species? And why are ‘spillovers’ becoming more common?”
  • Nature Communications, Feb. 9, “Evidence for SARS-CoV-2 related coronaviruses circulating in bats and pangolins in Southeast Asia” 
  • National Geographic, April 2, “We still don’t know the origins of the coronavirus. Here are 4 scenarios.”  
  • MIT Technology Review, March 18, “Did the coronavirus leak from a lab? These scientists say we shouldn’t rule it out.” 
  • World Health Organization, March 30, “WHO-convened global study of origins of SARS-CoV-2: China Part” 
  • The New York Times, Feb. 7, 2020, “As New Coronavirus Spread, China’s Old Habits Delayed Fight” 
  • The New York Times, March 30, “W.H.O. Inquiry on the Pandemic’s Origin: What We Know” 
  • Science News, April 1, “4 takeaways from the WHO’s report on the origins of the coronavirus” 
  • United States Mint, Feb. 19, “Final America the beautiful Quarters Three-Coin Set on Sale February 19”
  • United States Mint, Aug. 13, 2019, “United States Mint Reveals Designs for the Final Coins in the America the Beautiful Quarters Program” 
  • World Health Organization, June 29, 2020, Listings of WHO’s response to COVID-19
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Feb. 13, 2020, “CDC Confirms 15th Case of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)”
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 2020, “Possible Bat Origin of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2”

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