Rebekah Jones has created a parallel site that she claims will reveal the numbers that the state has not been reporting.
FLORIDA — Rebekah Jones, the Florida government data scientist who was fired last month from Florida’s Department of Health (DOH), where she created and managed the state’s coronavirus dashboard, has created her own COVID-19 board, a parallel site that she claims will reveal the numbers that the state has not been reporting.
On Wednesday, for example, Florida’s DOH dashboard reported 82,719 total confirmed new cases of COVID-19 across the state. Jones’ board reported 88,261 COVID positive people since March 1. Similarly, the same day the DOH reported 3,018 coronavirus related deaths, while Jones’ site cited 3,110 fatalities. It also lists 23,426 estimated recovered in the last six weeks.
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Jones attributes the marked difference in the numbers of new confirmed cases to the state reporting residents and non-residents, but excluding those who received positive antibody test results, among other omissions.
For its part, the DOH issued a statement claiming that the reason for the disparity is that antibody tests are not typically used or considered effective for diagnosing cases of COVID-19.
Apart from the disputed numbers, Jones’ board offers other pertinent information that at this time the state’s dashboard does not provide, like detailed hospital data and information on how and where to get tested for COVID-19. Most importantly, unlike Jones’ site, the state’s dashboard doesn’t report whether a county has met the state’s goals for the next phase of re-opening.
This takes on new importance after a Columbia University study found that 84 percent of deaths and 82 percent of cases could have been prevented if the U.S., had started social distancing two weeks earlier.
A Troubled History
Jones was fired from her duties on May 5. Immediately after being stripped of her position, she warned in an email 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 went on to address the reason why she believed that she was relieved of her duties: “My commitment to [accessibility and transparency] is largely the reason I am no longer managing [the COVID board].”
But Helen Aguirre Ferré, the spokeswoman for Governor Ron DeSantis, refuted this explanation, issuing a statement that said 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.”
In response to Jones’ allegations of lack of transparency, the Florida DOH issued a statement saying that “the Rebekah Jones’ Dashboard sources much of its data directly from the Department’s. The remainder is either self-reported or derived from unofficial sources.” It added that the DOH’s goal has always been “to provide accurate, confirmed information regarding COVID-19 in Florida in as expeditious a manner as is possible.”
Jones, however, told TIME she relied on state data for her website but that she “showed it in its proper context,” adding that her reason for creating her own COVID dashboard is simple: “It’s a pandemic; it’s a public health crisis and access to whatever data we have is critical to understand what has happened and from that model what might happen.”