The creator and manager of Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard says she was removed from that role after refusing to change data.
Rebekah Jones, the Florida Department of Health’s GIS (Geographic Information System) manager, was the brains behind the state’s lauded COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard.
She told colleagues in a May 5 email first reported by Florida Today Monday night that her team was being taken off of the dashboard due to “reasons beyond my division’s control,” and that she no longer controlled changes made to the tool, including any potential “data they are now restricting.”
“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,” the data scientist added. “After all, my commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it.”
Jones was involuntarily removed, she subsequently told CBS12 in an email, because she refused to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”
One researcher, Professor Ben D. Sawyer of the University of Central Florida, told Florida Today that he and a colleague had been denied access to underlying data they requested from the state. Other public health experts confirmed to the paper that data access had decreased.
In a statement to TPM Tuesday night, a spokesperson for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said Jones “exhibited a repeated course of insubordination” and “blatant disrespect for the professionals who were working around the clock to provide the important information for the COVID-19 website.”
“She is given an opportunity to resign,” spokesperson Helen Ferre said. “If she does not, she will be terminated.”
DeSantis, a strong ally of President Donald Trump, has sought to “reopen” certain parts of Florida’s economy that were ordered shut due to COVID-19. This week restaurants, retail stores, gyms, libraries and museums were allowed to operate at half capacity.
This post has been updated.