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New York Times issues correction on ER doctor it claimed died of coronavirus

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The New York Times Magazine published an eyebrow raising correction this week, reversing its claim that a 26-year-old emergency room doctor who contracted the coronavirus had died from the disease.

Turns out, the doctor is very much alive.

Opps!

The paper of record first made the claim in a riveting first-person account in the April 19 issue of the magazine, which focused on the “epicenter / inside New York City’s hospitals as they face the coronavirus.” The lead story was “I’m an E.R. Doctor in New York. None of Us Will Ever Be the Same” — a “Covid diary” written by Helen Ouyang, a physician and assistant professor at Columbia University who has written for the magazine before.

It’s unclear what exactly Ouyang said about the 26-year-old ER doctor, who very well may have learned about his death in The Times, because all mention of him has since been scrubbed from the publication’s web site.

But in an editor’s note published on May 26, the mag acknowledges the uncomfortable mistake.

“An earlier version of this article described an account that circulated among doctors in April about a 26-year-old medical resident training in New York who was said to have died of Covid-19 in a New York City hospital. This account was verified with sources involved in the patient’s care, but further reporting after publication revealed that it was apparently a case of mistaken identity.”

The publication then blames the medical team who cared for the deceased.

“Health workers involved in the patient’s treatment mistakenly believed that he was a medical resident, but ACEP [the American College of Emergency Physicians] said it had subsequently confirmed that it was not the same man, and that the medical resident with that name was healthy.”

In addition to deleting any virtual record of the error, the correction fails to name either the deceased or the unlucky ER doctor mistaken for the deceased — a departure from The Times’ usual practice of spelling out its mistakes, including typos.

For instance, Thursday’s corrections names a person the paper erroneously mentioned in its eye-catching cover listing the names of people whose lives have been lost due to the coronavirus. Helyn Dawson, it said, was “erroneously included … because of a misreading of a local obituary.”

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