March 19, 2021
Once again, the Orlando Sentinel’s requests for public information have been ignored by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office.
So, once again, the Sentinel is going to court to force the governor’s administration to comply with state law and the Florida Constitution, which he swore an oath to uphold.
This time, the state Department of Health is withholding information about the spread of coronavirus variants in Florida. These are the mutated versions of SARS-CoV-2 that originated in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.
We know Florida is ground zero for these variant strains in the U.S. with more than 750 cases, mostly of the U.K. strain. What we don’t know is how many of those cases, and which strains, have been reported in Orange County. Or Osceola. Or Broward. Or other counties.
The Sentinel began asking for county-by-county reports in early January — more than two months ago. We want to know — so we can report back to you — how many people were infected with which strains and where, and how many people died from them.
The response from Florida? Silence.
That same stonewalling forced the Sentinel to sue DeSantis in December when the paper was trying to get weekly reports issued by the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Those reports were filled with important information about the status of the virus in each state.
It also made specific public health recommendations, most of which Florida was ignoring (which might partially explain the state’s refusal to release the reports).
The state offered no defense because there wasn’t one. The reports were public records under the law, no matter how you sliced it. The state settled in January, promising to release the reports and agreeing to pay the Sentinel’s attorneys fees.
Clearly, the state hasn’t learned its lesson.