Trust Index: The biggest claims we fact-checked in 2020

Trust Index sifted through fact and fiction on coronavirus, H-E-B rumors

Here are the biggest claims we looked into in 2020.

SAN ANTONIOThis was a year unlike any other. Find more stories wrapping up 2020 here.

From politician claims to social media rumors that spread like wildfire, KSAT’s Trust Index was there to find the truth behind the allegations.

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With misinformation on the rise, the Trust Index team was established to verify claims that could be false or misleading. The goal is to reinforce journalism ethics and give readers and viewers the facts they need.

Here are the biggest claims we checked in 2020:

COVID-19 vaccine: Fact vs. Fiction

With COVID-19 vaccines now being administered to frontline health care workers across the country, there have been questions and misconceptions floating around social media about the vaccine.

To help address the claims, KSAT spoke to Dr. Jason Bowling, University Health System’s Lead Hospital Epidemiologist.

Bowling discussed how the vaccine was made, if it can cause a COVID-19 infection and what it would take to achieve herd immunity.

Trump: COVID-19 ‘gone’ in Texas

While defending his administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the president used Texas as an example during one of the debates with now President-elect Joe Biden on Oct. 22.

“There was a very big spike in Texas, it’s now gone,” Trump said when asked about his response to the pandemic.

At the time, Texas had seen signs of improvement following a surge of cases in the summer. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott resumed reopening phases and allowed bars to reopen.

However, Texas had already begun to see a rise in cases and hospitalizations.

By Oct. 23, nearly 5,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations were reported in Texas. Hospitalizations hit numbers that had not been seen since Aug. 24, and increased by roughly 55% in October.

Trump’s claim was deemed untrue.

Entire households not included in San Antonio’s COVID-19 count

Social media was filled with questionable claims on how COVID-19 cases are counted, both locally and across the state of Texas.

One of them claimed that if one household member tested positive for COVID-19 then the entire household is included in Bexar County’s COVID-19 count. That’s not true.

Instead, the “total case counts include both confirmed cases (cases confirmed with RT PCR test) and probable cases which are primarily symptomatic individuals with a positive antigen test,” said Michelle Vigil, director of public relations for Metro Health.

A probable case is now defined as a person who has not yet had a positive PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) test for COVID-19, but who meets two of the following three criteria:

  • A positive quick-result antigen test
  • Experiencing COVID-19 symptoms
  • Close contact with a confirmed positive COVID-19 case

H-E-B is not imposing age limits in stores

Another popular claim on social media stated that H-E-B would not allow children younger than 16 in their stores amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Trust Index debunked that claim.

Due to the pandemic, H-E-B had asked shoppers to have only one household member inside the store if possible. The goal was to stay consistent with social distancing guidelines.

But the grocery chain never banned children from entering the store.

‘Pink slime’ local news sites in San Antonio

They look like a legitimate news outlet, but they’re not.

A report recently published by the Columbia Journalism Review exposed a network of “pink slime” news sites, which have grown from roughly 450 sites in December 2019 to more than 1,200 in 2020. Another report by Duke University says these sites are funded by political interest groups and may have an agenda as the election nears.

In Texas, the network of pink slime sites goes back to a company named Metric Media. They’ve created websites in the San Antonio area that include:

The websites are identical, scraping stories from various news outlets. Though some of the stories are from legitimate news outlets, experts say it’s important to make sure the information isn’t manipulated in some way.

“What’s concerned us is the possibility that the distribution of local journalism becomes part of a party’s political strategy,” says Phil Napoli, and professor and author at Duke University who co-authored a study on pink slime sites. “Once we are talking about journalism resources being allocated as a tool of influence in a specific direction,” he says, “that does open the door to the greater likelihood of misinformation.”

When looking at a questionable site or news story, here a few things to consider:

  • Look for a date stamp and an author byline.
  • Can you tell who wrote the article and what their background is?
  • Has that article been published on other websites with key details changed?
  • Does the web site only use stock photos as opposed to locally created content?
  • What information is on the “Contact us” page?

Looking ahead

Help KSAT continue fighting misinformation in 2021.

Our team of trained fact-checkers will review the claims and respond, as possible. Due to volume, we can’t respond to everyone, but we use all shared information to track trends and find the best places to intercede with reporting and stories.

Pass along the claim here.