ORLANDO, Fla. – News 6 launched its Trust Index at the beginning of 2020 in an effort to be more thorough, consistent and aggressive with its fact-checking approach, not having any idea just how much an initiative like this one would come to truly be needed throughout the year.
From vaccines to voter fraud, our team of fact-checkers has investigated the ins and outs of countless claims over the last several months and debunked many myths along the way.
[TRUST INDEX: See a questionable claim on social media? Share it with the Trust Index fact-checking team]
As we wrap up this eventful year, let’s take a look back at a few of the biggest claims we checked in 2020.
Myth or fact: COVID-19 vaccine edition
In less than a year, scientists and health officials were able to develop, approve and roll out a vaccine in hopes of bringing the coronavirus pandemic to an end, providing hope to countless Americans but also raising some concern from those who are skeptical about how quickly the whole thing happened and whether the accelerated timeline jeopardized the safety of the vaccine.
To address some of the concerns, News 6 spoke to multiple infectious disease experts who debunked some of the myths about the vaccine that have circulated online.
Trump: ‘Plenty of proof’ of voter fraud
Election Day lasted much longer than a single day in this year’s presidential race. As the number of hours and days America waited to see who would be declared the winner grew longer, so did claims of voter fraud, especially from President Donald Trump and his legal team, who threatened that all late-claimed Biden states would be legally challenged because there was “plenty of proof” of fraud.
News 6 took the claims, including the president’s, and ran them through the Trust Index to see if they had a legal leg to stand on. Both a law professor and a political expert warned there likely wasn’t as much proof as Trump had suggested.
Mail-in ballots will lead to tampering or fraud
The worries over fraud in the latest U.S. presidential election began long before November. In fact, the integrity of mail-in ballots began being questioned by critics earlier this year as many states made plans to pivot to that style of voting in an effort to keep people from crowding at the polls and further spreading the coronavirus.
A Seminole County woman became especially worried about whether her vote would be counted properly in the general election when she noticed that her political party affiliation was printed on her ballot envelope in the August primary.
The woman worried exposing her political affiliation to those who would handle her ballot from the postal service all the way to the supervisor of elections office, could invite ballot tampering or voter fraud.
News 6 took her concern to a number of Central Florida supervisors of elections who explained why the party affiliations were printed on the envelopes in the first place and why residents wouldn’t need to worry about them playing a role in the general election.
Children at ‘extremely low risk’ of COVID-19
After having to pivot to online learning in the middle of the spring semester because of the pandemic, Floridians waited months to find out whether schools would reopen for in-person learning in the fall. And in June, when Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran finally announced that they would, he said the state’s decision was based on data that showed children “are at an extremely low risk not only of contracting it but even spreading” the coronavirus.
To make sure parents had all the information they’d need to make an informed decision about whether to send their children back to the classroom or keep them home for virtual learning, News 6 took Corcoran’s claim to Dr. Jenna Wheeler, a pediatric critical care physician at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.
Wheeler said, at the time, she didn’t think there was “any data that [showed] they’re at extremely low risk.”
Other health officials told News 6 that while it was too soon to know for sure if kids were less likely to get the virus, there was reason to believe that kids were less likely to get extremely ill from it.
Was Florida really keeping tabs on travelers?
Early in the pandemic, New York was considered the coronavirus “hot spot” of the U.S., which is why Gov. Ron DeSantis in March ordered those coming to the Sunshine State from New York and surrounding states to enter a self-quarantine upon arrival in Florida. Part of the governor’s executive order mandated state officials assist the health department in enforcing quarantines for every person who drove or flew into Florida.
News 6 asked the Florida Department of Health for months how many travelers had been checked on since they arrived in the state and how health officials were keeping up with those travelers but the FDOH would not say how many travelers it followed up with or checked on since the order went into effect. Finally, News 6 asked the governor, who said it’s not all up to the state and many of the follow-ups were being done by county health departments. When our fact-checking team asked officials from different health departments in Central Florida if they were conducting checks and how many, many of their responses contradicted what the governor had said.
As you can see, 2020 was a year of digging deeper to separate fact from fiction. But that doesn’t mean News 6 will let up in 2021 or any time after that.
Through our Trust Index initiative and beyond, News 6 is committed to bringing you the facts and stopping the spread of misinformation.
Help us do that by submitting claims you see circulating on social media or elsewhere to our team of trained fact-checkers here.