Orlando Sentinel by Kate Santich
April 21, 2021
A judge on Wednesday ordered the Florida Department of Health to release information on COVID-19 variant cases to the Orlando Sentinel and pay the newspaper’s legal fees, settling a lawsuit over the state’s withholding of critical public health data.
The agreement calls for the department to release future information on variant infections within one business day — barring “unanticipated circumstances,” in which case the department must provide the information “as expeditiously as possible,” according to the settlement.
The case marked the second time in four months the newspaper has prevailed in its legal attempts to obtain public health information from state officials.
“We are pleased that the state has agreed to release the COVID variant data within a day of our requests so that we can inform the public in a more timely way,” said Julie Anderson, editor-in-chief of the Orlando Sentinel Media Group as well as the Sun Sentinel Media Group. “What the data has shown so far is that Central Florida and Florida in general are hotspots for the variants, and that’s an important part of the story as the state rushes to vaccinate the population and overcome COVID.”
The newspaper filed its lawsuit against the department March 18 for allegedly violating the state’s public records law by refusing for 57 days to release detailed information on the location of mutated strains of COVID-19, even as such cases rapidly multiplied.
The suit claimed a “strong, immediate need … to understand how the virus continues to spread and affect Floridians.”