Tallahassee – Florida’s chief administrator of the coronavirus website was fired Monday after an apparent disagreement about what information should be made public, underscoring how much public health data and policy have become intertwined as elected officials try to reopen their communities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has said that his decision to start reopening his state is underpinned by scientific data, and that federal epidemiologists have praised the daily release of COVID-19-related data by his administration for being especially detailed. and easy to interpret.
However, questions about the integrity of the state’s public health data reappeared when Rebekah Jones, computer systems manager for the Florida Department of Health, announced Friday in an email to investigators that she had been reassigned from her duties as supervisor. from a virtual dashboard that provides daily updated charts on COVID-19 infections, tests and deaths in Florida.RELATED
In preparation for reopening the state, DeSantis has railed against pessimistic early forecasts, saying in recent weeks that many of the state’s hospital beds are unoccupied and that some test sites have closed because there was not much demand.
It has used data from the dashboard – including the relatively low rate of people testing positive for the coronavirus – to build support to reopen the state. Still, he said, the reopening will happen in phases. This week, restaurants and shops were able to open to 50% of their capacity.
However, the layoff served as new ammunition against the Republican governor while defending his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. DeSantis has also come under fire for his handling of the state’s unemployment system, which collapsed after being inundated by hundreds of thousands of Florida residents who suddenly lost their jobs due to the economic recession brought on by the outbreak.
“We were told that the Florida reopening was based on analyzing the data. If that data was wrong or manipulated, that puts countless Floridians at risk of COVID-19 transmission,” said Democratic State Representative Tracie Davis, a member of the Health Commission of the House of Representatives.
“We know that our state is being reopened and now we have the data question mark,” he added.
The state Department of Health could not comment on the matter at the moment, but confirmed that Jones had been fired as the Florida Today newspaper first reported.
Jones could not be reached for comment.