Miami Herald by Mary Ellen Klas
March 1, 2021
For months, Thomas Hladish, a research scientist at the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, asked the Florida Department of Health to let him use information from thousands of contact tracers the state had hired to interview Floridians who tested positive for COVID-19.
He and his colleagues wanted to better understand where transmission was occurring in Florida so officials could put more effective policies in place.
But Hladish, who was on FDOH’s payroll for part of last year building statistical forecasting models about the disease, was stonewalled. He was then told not to even acknowledge the state had a set of data that showed when and where people tested negative for COVID-19 in Florida.
“They said, if it was brought to the attention of anyone that the data set exists, then the state has to release it,’’ Hladish recalled last week. “It was presented to me that I should not acknowledge they have that data.”
As Gov. Ron DeSantis prepares to give his third State of the State speech on Tuesday when lawmakers convene for their annual 60-day session, many open government advocates say the state of Florida’s sunshine laws are darker this year because of the governor’s selective release of information and his attempt at times to actively shield critical details about the depths of the crisis from becoming public.