Fired COVID-19 dashboard manager raises red flags about accuracy of state data

Published: May. 19, 2020 at 5:38 PM EDT
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Florida’s nationally celebrated COVID-19 dashboard suggests reopening the state is going as good as one can hope.

Infection rates remain well below target levels and emergency visits for flu and COVID-like illnesses are on the decline, but the firing of the architect and manager of the state’s COVID-19 dashboard is raising questions about the reliability of the state data.

An email sent by the architect and former manager of Florida’s COVID-19 Dashboard to researchers and her former team makes a disturbing claim.

Rebekah Jones alleges to have been fired for being too transparent.

"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,” said Jones in the email.

For Pam Marsh, President of the First Amendment Foundation, the accusation is disheartening.

“How do we make decisions based on information that's A: inaccurate and now we have this reason to distrust it?” Marsh said.

Marsh also pointed out the timing of Jones’ firing as suspicious.

In the email Jones claims to have been let go on May 5th, just one day after the first phase of the Governor’s reopening plan went into effect.

“When the administration needs the data to show that the curve is not just flattening, but going down,” Marsh said.

We reached out to Jones via two email accounts, her cell and office phone numbers.

We also contacted her on Facebook, but only received an automated message saying she was not doing interviews.

The Governor and Department of Health also did not reply to our request for comment.

“More information on this is important to gather, but I think what right now is really suspicious,” Marsh said.

While our request to the Governor went unanswered, The Miami-Herald received a statement claiming the same team would still be managing the dashboard.

Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried wrote a letter to the governor requesting Surgeon General Rivkees and all other officials responsible appear before the Cabinet for questioning on May 28.

“These actions undermine public trust in our government, are extraordinarily dangerous to public health, and are absolutely inconsistent with the transparency and accuracy that Floridians expect and deserve during this pandemic,” Fried said in the letter.

The question now becomes, how reliable are the state’s numbers and how smoothly are the reopening plans truly going?

We’ll continue pushing for an answer from the Governor and trying to get a more detailed account from Jones.

Florida’s dashboard currently reflects just shy of 47,000 cases, 8,400 hospitalizations and more than 2,000 deaths.

The latest data shows only 4.27 percent of tests are returning COVID-19 positive.