The Chinese Communist Party, writing through its propaganda organ, the Global Times, is now using one of the many falsehoods that have been spread by former Florida DOH dashboard designer Rebekah Jones in order to cast aspersions on the integrity of the United States and claim that COVID-19 originated in America, rather than in China. In a piece published this morning, the Chinese government suggests that:
Florida, a new COVID-19 epicenter of the US where the seven-day average cases rose to a record high of more than 18,000 in early August, is causing public concern due to its serious epidemic situation and the lack of transparency on its early cases – especially in the case of 171 early patients’ data that was deleted and hidden.
People in Florida complained about the hiding of information on early local cases, which are now widely believed to have emerged earlier than the state’s officially reported patients – and even earlier than the virus outbreak in China’s Wuhan.
Further, the Global Times claims that:
the Florida government stayed secretive about its epidemic information. It didn’t explain why there had been a possible local spread of COVID-19 prior to the Wuhan outbreak, or why it deleted the data of the 171 early patients, US media reports said.
Worse still, the government attempted to silence those who wanted to get to the truth. It fired then data analyst Rebekah Jones, who refused to manipulate the data in May 2020, and raided her home later that year.
“State police came to my house and took all my hardware and tech,” Jones wrote on Twitter on December 8, 2020. The police pointed guns at her and her kids, Jones added.
The claim that there was a “lack of transparency on its early cases – especially in the case of 171 early patients’ data that was deleted and hidden” is one of Jones’s most egregious lies. In June, writing in these pages, Matt Shapiro not only explained in great detail why this is false per se, he also demonstrated why the numbers that Florida collected do not in any way suggest that COVID-19 “emerged earlier than the state’s officially reported patients – and even earlier than the virus outbreak in China’s Wuhan”:
From the start, Florida made this impressively detailed data set available to everyone — even to reporters. And this, really, is where the story starts. In May 2020, reporters from the Miami Herald downloaded the data and searched specifically for the earliest dates in the “Event Date” field, which were listed as December 2019. They took this to imply that COVID had been spreading in Florida months before any case had been recognized or recorded in the Unites States. Falsely sensing a scoop, the Herald began sending inquiries concerning this “discrepancy” to the Florida Department of Health.
Naturally, the Department of Health found many of these inquiries impossible to answer, given that the correct response is no more satisfying than “well, the data are messy.” Some of the December “Event Date” variables were the result of data-entry mistakes. Some reflected chronically ill or elderly patients who had been exhibiting “COVID symptoms” — which, again, for the DOH’s purpose here, means basically any symptom of illness — for many months before being diagnosed. And some were the result of no “Event Date” being recorded at all (this is known as a “null” value), which prompted the system to default to an “earliest possible date” option of “12/31/2019 4:00:00 PM.”
To this day, you can download Florida’s case-line data and see 21 cases of COVID that, despite having been identified between March 2020 and December 2020, feature a December 2019 “Event Date.” To anyone who understands data, these results are clearly the product of the system having assigned a non-null default value when no data has been entered. To the Miami Herald, however, these results hinted at scandal. Even now, when its reporters know beyond any doubt that their initial instincts were wrong, the Herald continues to tell its readers that these entries serve as “evidence of community spread potentially months earlier than previously reported.” This is not true.
Alas, a whole host of American newspapers ran with this story long after it was clear that it was based upon a lie — which is why, in addition to featuring the opinions of such disinterested experts as “a virologist from Wuhan University,” the Global Times’ story is able to including supporting quotes from outlets such as the Miami Herald, the Palm Beach Post, and the Tallahassee Democrat, all of which helped to launder Jones’s conspiracy theory into the mainstream.
Well, congrats, guys! This time, quite literally, you’ve earned your reputation as just one small step above Pravda.