• The accusation was made by Rebekah Jones, who was part of the team that previously ran Florida's "COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard"
  • Florida officials have faced scrutiny over alleged data suppression of points like infection and death rates, medical examiner reports, and the testing backlog
  • Over 550 new cases in Miami-Dade County were credited to a backlog of testing at one of the state's testing sites

A Florida health official accused her superiors of trying to suppress data on the impact COVID-19 has had on the state. The accusation was made in an email by Rebekah Jones, geographic information system manager for the Department of Health’s Disease Control and Health Protection.

The email was in response to Jones’ team being taken off the state’s “COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard.”

“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,” Jones said in the email acquired by the Miami Herald. “After all, my commitment to both is largely [arguably entirely] the reason I am no longer managing it.”

Jones also made it clear that she was not told about any potential plans or changes the new team could bring to the webpage.

“I have no knowledge about their plans, what data they are now restricting, what data will be added and when, or any of that,” Jones said. “I understand, appreciate, and even share your concern about all the dramatic changes that have occurred and those that are yet to come. However, I cannot provide any insight now or going forward.”

“They are making a lot of changes. I would advise being diligent in your respective uses of this data.”

As of early Tuesday, Florida had more than 45,000 confirmed cases and nearly 2,000 reported deaths from coronavirus.

Coronavirus data has become a point of contention as Florida officials have consistently hesitated to release accurate data on the pandemic. This has included withholding the death and infection rates at nursing homes, the testing backlog, and infection rates at prisons.

Unreported backlogs of tests have been one of the most consistent issues for state officials since a Miami Herald report from April that accused officials of “playing with the numbers.” The accusations were made by two private healthcare providers in southern Florida that said they were awaiting test results for over 800 patients at the time.

It was made an issue again on Monday after a weekend spike of around 550 new cases in Miami-Dade County. Gov. Ron DeSantis credited the spike was due to a backlog of three-week-old tests from one of the state’s testing sites, but didn’t say which.

DeSantis’ office pushed back on Jones’ accusations in a public statement from spokesperson Helen Aguirre Ferre.

“The Florida COVID-19 Dashboard was created by the Geographic Information System (GIS) team in the Division of Disease Control and Health Protection at the Florida Department of Health,” Ferre said. “Although Rebekah Jones is no longer involved, the GIS team continues to manage and update the Dashboard providing accurate and important information that is publicly accessible.”

Scientists around the world are working at breakneck speed to develop a vaccine for COVID-19
Scientists around the world are working at breakneck speed to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 AFP / ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS