KEY POINTS

  • The office of Florida governor Ron DeSantis said Rebekah Jones was fired for a "repeated course of insubordination"
  • Jones singgle-handedly created the state's well-received "COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard"
  • She continues to say she was terminated for refusing to alter coronavirus data that would have supported DeSantis' desire to reopen the state for business

The office of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Tuesday formally announced the firing of Rebekah Jones, the whistleblower data scientist that developed the state's "COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard," for insubordination and for being "disruptive," among other alleged offenses.

Jones earlier claimed she'd been fired as the Geographic Information Systems manager for the Florida Department of Health (DOH) because she refused to manipulate data that would have made it untenable for DeSantis to reopen the state for business. DeSantis on Monday called her removal a "nonissue" and denied his involvement.

DeSantis kept boasting about the state’s low positive rate of coronavirus cases as a justification for reopening the state for business. He allowed nonessential businesses statewide to reopen two weeks ago. Restaurants and retail stores reopened May 18 in Miami-Dade County and Broward County, Florida's largest counties.

Helen Aguirre Ferré, De Santis' spokeswoman, confirmed Jones was fired for insubordination. In a statement published by Miami Herald, "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."

Aguirre Ferré pointed out this alleged "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." She noted that accuracy and transparency are 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," said Aguirre Ferré.

Jones told the Tampa Bay Times Tuesday she was given the choice last Friday of either resigning or being fired on May 18. She refused to resign.

In making her case online and to the media, Jones said she'd been asked by administration officials to remove portions from publicly available COVID-19 data on her dashboard indicating when patients began experiencing symptoms after media began requesting the data.

In April, Florida news outlets sued the state over its refusal to release data about COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. The DeSantis administration finally began releasing the data in late April. Questions about the accuracy of the state's COVID-19 data continue to persist, however, and have increased with Jones' termination.

President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis discussed new safety measures on international flights to the United States President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis discussed new safety measures on international flights to the United States Photo: AFP / MANDEL NGAN

Jones asserts she was fired for refusing to "manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen (the Florida economy)." She said she alone created Florida's COVID-19 data dashboard. This online resource, which was praised by Dr. Deborah Birx (the White House coronavirus task force coordinator) features four dashboards and six unique maps. It's available in English and Spanish.

Jones said she single-handedly made the portal to give Floridians and researchers a way to see what the COVID-19 situation in Florida in real time.

"I worked on it alone, 16 hours a day for two months, most of which I was never paid for, and now that this has happened I'll probably never get paid for," Jones said. She also confirmed she was fired from her job, and not reassigned.

State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, called for an investigation into Jones’ firing and allegations she'd been pressured to manipulate data.