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Scientist claims she was sacked by Florida health dept for refusing to manipulate coronavirus data: Report

The state wanted to use the manipulated data to make a case for reopening the state
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The scientist behind Florida's coronavirus website claims she was sacked for not yielding to the authorities' demands of fudging data. Two months ago, the health department roped Rebekah Jones to create the portal to allow scientists, health care workers, journalists, and citizens to monitor the Covid-19 situation in real-time.

Authorities reportedly asked Jones to get rid of records showing people had symptoms or positive tests before cases were officially announced. The state was hoping to use the manipulated data to make a case for reopening the state. According to an email accessed by newspaper Florida Today,  her removal was "not voluntary” and the Department of Health showed her the door because she refused to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”

“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 wrote. “After all, my commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it," she wrote in the email. She warned that officials are making a lot of changes to the data, advising users to be diligent. "I worked on it alone, sixteen hours a day for two months, most of which I was never paid for, and now that this has happened I'll probably never get paid for," the former Geographic Information Systems manager at the Florida Department of Health, told USA TODAY.

Governor Ron DeSantis opened up on 18 May, allowing gyms, restaurants with 50% capacity to start operations across nearly all of Florida. (Getty Images)

A spokesperson of Governor Ron DeSantis -- a Republican -- issued a statement responding to the allegations. "Rebekah Jones exhibited a repeated course of insubordination during her time with the Department, including her unilateral decisions to modify the Department’s Covid-19 dashboard without input or approval from the epidemiological team or her supervisors," she said. Explaining further, the spokesperson said that Jones showed blatant disrespect for professionals working around the clock to provide information for the Covid-19 website.. "Having someone disruptive cannot be tolerated during this public pandemic, which led the department to determine that it was best to terminate her employment," she added.

Reacting to the news, Lucky Tran, a Biologist and public health communicator at Columbia University, tweeted, "When politicians censor scientists and manipulate the numbers, the rest of us suffer." Echoing this statement, Pamela Marsh of the First Amendment Foundation, a Florida-based watchdog group, told NBC News, "It shows an administration willing to hide the truth to further its own agenda. With this news regarding the administration’s manipulation of data, why would anyone trust the information coming out of Florida?"

Recently reports suggested that the state was not transparent about the number of deaths. According to Florida’s medical examiner, the death toll was 10% higher than the count released by the Department of Health. “This is no different than any other public record we deal with. It is paid for by taxpayer dollars, and the taxpayers have a right to know.” Dr. Stephen Nelson, the chairman of the state Medical Examiners Commission, told TampaBay Times.

According to data, Florida has had more than 45,000 positive cases and over 2,050 deaths. The state opened up on 18 May, allowing gyms, restaurants with 50% capacity to start operations across nearly all of Florida. The Governor is also trying to reopen theme parks and professional sports leagues.