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Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard creator fired after claims about manipulating data

The creator of Florida’s dashboard that illustrates cases of the coronavirus said she was forced out of the job for refusing to manipulate data, and the governor’s office said Tuesday she has been fired for “insubordination.”

The dashboard just one month ago was singled out as an example of transparency by Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

“Go to the Florida public health website on COVID, they’ve been able to show their community cases and tests, district by district, county by county, zip code by zip code; that’s the kind of knowledge and power we need to put into the hands of American people,” Birx said.

Now, Rebekah Jones, the dashboard’s creator, is at the center of brewing controversy after claiming she was let go for refusing to manipulate data on COVID-19 cases. She sent an email to colleagues informing them she’s no longer in charge of the dashboard and offering these words of warning: “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.”

The suggestion that the state may be withholding data got the immediate attention of researcher Jay Wolfson, professor of public health, medicine and pharmacy at the University of South Florida.

“If my speedometer is not accurate, I’m flying blind,” Wolfson said.

Wolfson promised that he will be looking closely at the state’s numbers.

“We have to be in a position to measure even more carefully, more accurately, so that when there is a hot spot that erupts sometime in the future, and it will, we can isolate that hot spot and go to it quickly.”

The Department of Health has not commented on Jones’ dismissal or her email. The governor’s office said Tuesday evening that “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.

“Accuracy and transparency are always indispensable, especially during an unprecedented public health emergency such as COVID-19. Having someone disruptive cannot be tolerated during this public pandemic, which led the department to determine that it was best to terminate her employment.”

State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, a Miami Democrat, sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday, calling for an investigation into Jones’ removal and whether there may be any data manipulation or suppression.

Agriculture Secretary Nikki Fried is also calling for an investigation into Jones’ dismissal.

DeSantis at a Tuesday press conference called it a “non-issue.”

Full statement from the governor’s office:

“Rebekah Jones’ duties were to display data obtained by the Department’s epidemiological staff. The team that created the graphics on the dashboard, which was made up by multiple people, received data that was provided by subject matter experts, including Senior Epidemiologists, Surveillance Epidemiologists, and a Senior Database Analyst.

“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.

“Accuracy and transparency are always indispensable, especially during an unprecedented public health emergency such as COVID-19. Having someone disruptive cannot be tolerated during this public pandemic, which led the Department to determine that it was best to terminate her employment.”

Reporter:Janae Muchmore
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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