Coronavirus: Scientist says she was fired by Florida state government for refusing to manipulate Covid-19 data

Rebekah Jones’s claims about data manipulation were dismissed by Florida governor Ron DeSantis

Gino Spocchia
Wednesday 20 May 2020 13:19 BST
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The head scientist who created Florida’s coronavirus online database claims she was dismissed after disagreement with officials over an alleged manipulation of information.

Florida’s Department of Health (DoH) fired Rebekah Jones on Monday, after removing the data scientist from her position as an information systems manager on 5 May.

Some have condemned state authorities, which claimed that Florida could reopen based on the information provided through Ms Jones’s dashboard.

Ms Jones had announced on Friday that she had been moved within the DoH, and would no longer oversee an online dashboard that provides daily snapshots of Florida’s Covid-19 infections, testing and deaths.

The former-DoH scientist claimed in an email sent to researchers on Friday that she would not expect “the same level of accessibility and transparency” in Florida’s data after her dismissal.

Ms Jones later said she was removed from her position because she would not “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen”, in comments made to CBS12 News,

It was unclear specifically what data she was referring to.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis dismissed the fall-out as “a nonissue” on Tuesday and praised the dashboard as a national model.

Non-essential businesses in the state, such as restaurants and retail, were allowed to open with 50 per cent capacity last week, whilst the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases passed 46,000.

A Mr DeSantis spokesperson, Helen Ferre, said that Ms Jones had made “unilateral decisions to modify the Department’s COVID-19 dashboard without input or approval from the epidemiological team or her supervisors”.

“We were told the reopening Florida was built on studying the data,” said Jacksonville congresswoman and House Health Committee member Tracie Davis.

“If that data was wrong or manipulated, that puts countless Floridians at risk for exposure to COVID-19,” the Democrat added. “We do know our state is being reopened and we now have a question mark about the data”.

Florida authorities said that the number of infections and positive tests in the state were decreasing.

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