Fired COVID-19 Dashboard manager raises red flags about accuracy of state data

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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service
May 19, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Florida’s nationally celebrated COVID-19 dashboard suggests reopening is going as good as one can hope.

Infection rates remain well below target levels and emergency visits for flu and coronavirus-like illnesses are on the decline, but the firing of the architect and manager of the dashboard is raising questions about the reliability of the state data.

An email sent by the architect and former manager of Florida’s COVID-19 Dashboard to researchers and her former team makes a disturbing claim.

Rebekah Jones alleges to have been fired for being too transparent.

"As a word of caution, 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. After all, my commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it,” said Jones in the email.

For Pam Marsh, President of the First Amendment Foundation, the accusation is disheartening.

“How do we make decisions based on information that's inaccurate and now we have this reason distrust it?” said Marsh.

Marsh also pointed out the timing of Jones’ firing as suspect.

In the email, Jones claims to have been let go on May 5, just one day after the first phase of the governor’s reopening plan went into effect.

“When the administration needs the data to show that the curve in not just flattening, but going down,” said Marsh.

We reached out to Jones via two email accounts, her cell and office phone numbers.

We also contacted her on Facebook, but only received an automated message saying she was not doing interviews.

The Governor’s Office released information Tuesday afternoon disputing Jones’ claim.

“Rebekah 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. The blatant disrespect for the professionals who were working around the clock to provide the important information for the COVID-19 website was harmful to the team,” said DeSantis’ Communications Director Helen Ferre in an emailed statement," said Marsh.

We asked the governor about the email directly.

DeSantis read from an email his staff provided him sent to his administration by the Department of Health.

In it, Jones explains the email in question as a mistake.

“More information on this is important to gather, but I think what right now is really suspicious,” said Marsh.

The question now becomes; how reliable are the state’s numbers and how smoothly are the reopening plans truly going?

Florida’s dashboard currently reflects just shy of 47,000 cases, 8,400 hospitalizations and more than 2,000 deaths.

The latest data shows only 4.27% of tests are returning COVID-19 positive.

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