August 24, 2021

CNN report on Aug. 13 stated that in a 24-hour span, four Broward County, Florida, schoolteachers had died from COVID-19 and at least three of them were unvaccinated.

The Broward Teachers Union later corrected the announcement that served as the basis of the report, saying it was three teachers and that the fourth person was actually a Broward County Public Schools graduate who interacted heavily with the school district due to the nature of their job.

But an Instagram post sharing a clip from the CNN report questioned whether any of it was true.

“Ohhh look CNN is doing a story on (u)nvaccinated teachers who died of C0v1d in BROWARD COUNTY FL,” the post said. “But aren’t the schools still closed there? At least until next week.”

Commenters on the post called the report “fake news.” That post has since been deleted, but we found similar claims that also called the CNN report into question.

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) The misspellings of words such as COVID and vaccine are common tactics to evade detection by fact-checkers.

School hadn’t started when the four people died. But the deaths did happen.

The three Broward school employees who died were Janice Wright, a teacher at Pinewood Elementary; Katina Jones, a Dillard Elementary teacher; and Yolanda Hudson Williams, a teacher’s assistant at Dillard. The fourth person was Shunni Dionne Lee, whom the Broward Teachers Union said was a nonprofit worker who worked closely with the school district. Each passed within 24 hours of each other the week of Aug. 13.

The CNN report did not say that the four were infected at school, but it called attention to rising infection numbers locally that were causing concern about COVID-19 safety measures in schools.

“To say that we’re lying or faking deaths is just reckless and deplorable and a poor sense of human decency,” said teacher union President Anna Fusco.

Broward County Public Schools did not respond to requests for comment. Schools opened Aug. 18.

Fusco confirmed that Wright, Jones and Williams were not vaccinated. It is unclear whether Lee had been vaccinated. All four women were Black and in their late 40s. According to data from Kaiser Family Foundation, vaccination rates for Black Floridians have been much lower than for white Floridians.

The Broward County School Board made headlines in early August when it defied Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ order barring schools from requiring masks. The board voted 8-1 to keep the existing mask mandate, even with DeSantis’ threats to sanction the school district.

COVID-19 cases have been on the rise this summer in Florida, with daily cases and hospitalizations reaching their highest levels since the pandemic began. Florida’s Department of Health reported that there were more than 151,000 new cases during the week of Aug. 6. More than 40,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the state.

Our ruling

An Instagram user implied that a CNN news report about teachers who died from COVID-19 was fake because the school year hadn’t started yet.

Broward County Public Schools reopened Aug. 18, a week after the post was made. However, the Broward Teachers Union and additional news reports confirm that the four deaths did occur.

We rate this post False.

This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more of PolitiFact’s fact checks here.

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Gabrielle Settles is a reporter covering misinformation for PolitiFact. Previously, she was a staff writer for The Weekly Challenger and staff member and reporter for…
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