Despite Gov. Ron DeSantis’ claims of transparency, the state has been far from transparent in revealing vital COVID-19 data to the public.
The woman who created and designed Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard was fired Tuesday after publicly sharing her concerns about the Florida Department of Health’s (FDH) commitment to “accessibility and transparency.”
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In her email, Jones warned that “I would not expect the new team to continue the same level of accessibility and transparency that I made central to the process during the first two months.”
Jones then addressed the reason why she believes that she was relieved of her duties: “My commitment to [accessibility and transparency] is largely the reason I am no longer managing it.”
In response to Jones’ declaration, Helen Aguirre Ferré, the spokeswoman for Governor Ron DeSantis, said in a statement that the reason for the dismissal was that Jones “exhibited a repeated course of insubordination during her time with the department, including her unilateral decisions to modify the department’s COVID-19 dashboard without input or approval from the epidemiological team or her supervisors.”
But as reported by CBS-12 in West Palm Beach, Jones was fired for her staunch refusal to censor and “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen” the state for business, an agenda that Republican DeSantis, a strong Trump ally, had been pushing for some time.
Additionally, Jones told the Tampa Bay Times Tuesday that she had been asked to remove fields from publicly available COVID-19 data which indicated when patients had begun experiencing symptoms.
Jones, who had worked at the state’s Department of Health since September 2018, began work on the COVID-19 dashboard in early March. Her goal was to allow the general public, as well as researchers, to keep track of the ever evolving COVID-19 situation in Florida in real time. When the dashboard went public March 16, it drew high praise from Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force.
Jones’ Declaration Raises Alarm
After news of Jones’ dismissal was made public, State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez called the situation “infuriating and very dangerous if, in fact, employees who manage public information are being asked to alter it for an objective other than to provide information to the public.”
The Democrat from Miami is now calling for an investigation into Jones’ firing and the allegations that she had been pressured to manipulate data, as “decision makers in the private and the public sectors [look] to this data to make life and death decisions.”
In a statement issued to the Miami Herald, DeSantis’ spokeswoman said: “Although Rebekah Jones is no longer involved, the Geographic Information System (GIS) team continues to manage and update the Dashboard, providing accurate and important information that is publicly accessible.”
But despite DeSantis’ claims of transparency, as has been publicly noted the state has been far from transparent in revealing vital COVID-19 data, including the number of deaths and confirmed cases at nursing homes and long term care facilities, the medical examiners’ office record of fatalities, which has been consistently 10% higher than the number of deaths reported by the state, and how early cases began appearing in the state, to name just a few.