In the first year or so of the pandemic, the sane among us pointed to Florida as the best argument against strict lockdowns. Florida governor Ron DeSantis began the state’s first phase of reopening as early as April 2020 and declared all businesses open by September.

Though critics declared him “DeathSantis” and media outlets flew drones over crowded beaches with ominous background music, Florida had some of the lowest Covid hospitalization and death rates in the entire country.

Still, if you mentioned Florida's success, you would inevitably hear from some left-wing loudmouth that the numbers were cooked....

In the first year or so of the pandemic, the sane among us pointed to Florida as the best argument against strict lockdowns. Florida governor Ron DeSantis began the state’s first phase of reopening as early as April 2020 and declared all businesses open by September.

Though critics declared him “DeathSantis” and media outlets flew drones over crowded beaches with ominous background music, Florida had some of the lowest Covid hospitalization and death rates in the entire country.

Still, if you mentioned Florida’s success, you would inevitably hear from some left-wing loudmouth that the numbers were cooked. It couldn’t be possible to ignore the CDC, Dr. Anthony Fauci, New York governor Andrew Cuomo, Dr. Rachel Levine and the rest of the public health establishment and still have good outcomes. The only explanation was that Florida was lying.

This suspicion was supposedly confirmed by “whistleblower” Rebekah Jones, a former dashboard manager at the Florida Department of Health, who claimed she was fired because she refused to manipulate the state’s Covid data. Jones presented a number of claims sans evidence: that Florida was intentionally undercounting its deaths, that she was asked to falsify positive test rates, and that Florida health officials removed an entire data section from its website as part of the cover-up.

A Florida inspector general’s report — obtained by NBC News — determined that Jones’s allegations were “unsubstantiated” and “unfounded.” There was “insufficient evidence”, the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Inspector General said, that Jones was asked to change Covid data. Further, the state officials who temporarily removed a section of data were “exonerated,” as they were found to have done so to ensure no private health information was being shared. The IG report did not examine Jones’s accusation that the state deleted deaths or cases from its dashboard because she didn’t even bother to include it in her complaint — and, in fact, she admitted publicly that it never happened.

The independent report deals a huge blow not only to public health officials who insisted that lockdowns were the best Covid policy, but also to those who boosted Jones’s fantastical claims as fact. Jones was uncritically billed as a “data scientist,” even though she had no ability to actually alter any of the data on the state’s Covid dashboard. CNN in particular interviewed Jones many times and allowed her to push the narrative that a police raid on her home was intended to silence her, when actually she was accused of stealing government health data. MSNBC similarly gave a large platform to Jones’s claims, which, again, were presented without any evidence.

Jones was able to leverage the attention given to her bunk allegations into a run for Congress against Florida congressman Matt Gaetz. More importantly, she managed to convince millions of Americans to believe that Florida was lying about its Covid health data. Her reckless fabrications could have very well convinced those pushing lockdowns to stay the course, despite little evidence that they were at all effective at stopping the spread of Covid and instead contributed to a myriad of other negative public health outcomes.