The Sunshine State is the news again for allegedly restricting access to certain data from the public. Reports of possible COVID-19 data censorship in Florida are recirculating after the architect of the state's heavily-lauded novel coronavirus dashboard was fired. Now, some officials have suggested that Florida's government could be censoring information.
"I understand, appreciate, and even share your concern about all the dramatic changes that have occurred and those that are yet to come," Rebekah Jones wrote in a letter that Florida Today obtained. "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."
Jones led a team of Florida Department of Health data scientists and public health officers that created the online dashboard that provides the number of novel coronavirus cases and deaths reported in the state.
She was fired after the site had "crashed" and when it reappeared, specific data went missing without an explanation from officials, Florida Today reported.
In her final email to the data team, she cited that the reason for her leaving the department was "reasons beyond my division's control," and said in an email to CBS 12 in West Palm Beach that her leaving was "not voluntary."
She also sent out a stern warning that the new team's intentions weren't known, and likewise expressed uncertainty about "what data they are now restricting."
This is outrageous! Rebekah Jones, the manager of Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard has been involuntarily removed from… https://t.co/y0F1cN93d7— Jim Kennedy for Congress (@Jim Kennedy for Congress)1589880210.0
In April, the dashboard was propped up as a shining model of transparency by top White House official Dr. Deberah Birx during an interview with CBS News' Face the Nation.
While it's composed of readily-made information, numerous reports have surfaced over the past month that the numbers reflected on the tracker may not be entirely accurate. Now, with Jones' firing, speculation on possible suppression of information from the public has arisen.
Florida officials like U.S Representative Darren Soto tweeted on Tuesday that the removal of Jones is "both wrong and dangerous."
The news in Florida during #coronavirus pandemic hasn’t always been perfect, but at least it was honest. Now Gov De… https://t.co/B6879NVqm6— Rep. Darren Soto (@Rep. Darren Soto)1589895090.0
This isn't the first time Florida has been put to task in its apparent censoring of COVID-19 data.
A few weeks ago, the state's medical examiners reported that the positive case numbers reported by the Florida Department of Health were likely an undercount, saying that state officials stepped in and asked their offices to withhold information.
Florida’s Full Phase 1 begins Monday, May 18. All 67 counties may now begin re-opening as we continue to implement… https://t.co/mM4PiYFiD5— Ron DeSantis (@Ron DeSantis)1589568965.0
The latest transparency questions come as Florida has launched into "full Phase 1" of its reopening plan. However, there is a worry that the state could be flying blind with its moves to bring back a sense of normalcy by using conflicting information.