Tampa Bay Times by Langston Taylor
May 19, 2020
One day before a top Florida Department of Health data manager was taken off her role maintaining the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, officials had directed her to remove data from public view that showed Floridians reported symptoms of the disease before cases were officially announced, according to internal emails obtained by the Tampa Bay Times. She has since been asked to resign, she said Tuesday.
According to the emails, department staff gave the order shortly after reporters requested the same data from the agency on May 5. The data manager, Rebekah Jones, complied with the order, but not before she told her supervisors it was the “wrong call.”
By the next morning, control over the data was given to other employees, according to an email Jones posted Friday on a public listserv. Jones, the department’s Geographic Information Systems manager, wrote that she was no longer the point person for questions about the department’s “Florida’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard.” She implied her removal was an act of retribution.
Jones confirmed Tuesday that she was offered a settlement and the option to resign in lieu of being fired, effective May 26.
The dashboard, which gives daily updates on numbers of deaths, cases and tests for the coronavirus in every county in the state, is relied upon by officials, journalists, academics and residents who want as much information as possible about the deadly pandemic.
Besides the visible dashboard, the department releases the same data, with only slightly more information, in daily reports, as well as in another format that allows for easier data analysis.