Gross mismanagement of COVID-19 data, including “inaccurate,” “Incomplete,” and “delayed” reporting, put millions of Floridians at risk and undermined state’s efforts to fight the virus
Two years after former Department of Health scientist Rebekah Jones told state officials she was asked to conceal and distort COVID-19 infection rates, the Florida Auditor General confirms that Department of Health (DOH) and other entities provided “inaccurate or incomplete data,” lacked “effective access controls in the systems used to gather data,” and “impacted the State’s ability to accurately report COVID-19 data at the beginning of the pandemic.”
Jones was terminated in May of 2020 after refusing to manipulate COVID-19 data as requested by her supervisors. Jones was the architect and manager of the DOH COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard, the primary resource by which Floridians could access the most accurate and up to date information. Jones subsequently filed a claim for wrongful termination with the Florida Commission of Human Relations (FCHR), where her case is still pending. Jones was afforded legal whistleblower protections in May 2021, a designation she still holds.
Recent reporting on Jones’ case has distorted the status of her complaint based on a report issued by the Florida Department of Health Inspector General on May 26 (IG Report). The IG Report is extraneous to Jones’ formal complaint with the FCHR, and also wrong on the facts – contradicting its own evidence in the report. The primary allegations by Jones were that two different supervisors directed her to falsify COVID-19 positivity data in order to justify the state’s precipitous first-in-the-nation reopening plans. The report chronicles that three separate colleagues of Jones verified that she came to them in the immediate aftermath of her supervisors’ demands and relayed to them what happened. All three reports are consistent.
However, the IG Report ultimately concluded that there was not enough evidence to support or reject the claim because the supervisors in question denied the claims of wrongdoing, and there were no witnesses to the conversations. In addition, the Report contradicts its own exhibits by stating that the metric Jones was told to manipulate did not exist – namely a 10% case rate positivity threshold for reopening counties. As the screenshot of the public dashboard Jones commanded demonstrates, the 10% threshold was absolutely a criterion, with text providing:
Florida Health Metrics: The Re-Open Florida Task Force outlined the criteria shown here to evaluate each county’s readiness to begin a phased return to pre-pandemic activity:
ED [emergency department] visits with influenza-like illness
ED visits with COVID-like illness
Documented new cases
Percent positive for laboratory testing over time
Percent positive for laboratory testing below 10%
The screenshot image reproduced in the IG Report is blurry and difficult to read. It is unclear whether including an image of such poor quality was intentional.
The IG Report was widely and falsely reported as an exoneration of the State COVID-19 response, including the bizarre and illegal attacks of Governor DeSantis on Jones, including sending an armed police force to her home without a warrant during which officers pointed guns at her two young children.
The Auditor General's report released this week flips the script, laying blame for the Governor’s tragic response squarely at the feet of his own appointees and agency staff. The finding that the State acted so recklessly lends credence to Jones’ account of the State’s ceaseless attempts to defame and discredit her, as aided by certain complicit media. It also further paves the way towards Jones’ coming litigation against the State, which will be possible after the Florida Commission on Human Relations issues a finding on her wrongful termination claim. That determination is a long time coming, evidently due to the Governor’s instructions to delay until after the next election.
To add to an already victorious week for Jones, The Washington Post broke a story today showing that Christina Pushaw, the DeSantis spokesperson who was criminally charged with repeatedly violating a restraining order Jones took out against her in April 2021, failed to register as a foreign agent, and faces a potentially lengthy prison sentence as a result.
The state Audit and breaking news about Pushaw, who is one of the people who orchestrated a Twitter campaign to smear, harass, stalk and terrorize Jones, in addition to posing as a government official and creating a stalker/manifesto website with false and defamatory statements about Jones, likely sparked the misinformation and fabricated stories by known DeSantis allies like Marc Caputo earlier this month.
On May 12, 2021, DeSantis' administration coordinated with the alt-right online magazine, The National Review, to post a false and defamatory article about Jones based, according to the article, on the word of a single source. That source turned out to be a former-DOH employee William "Parker" Hinson. Hinson left DOH in 2018, after which time Jones took his job. He was not employed by DOH during the pandemic, had no role in the dashboard or access in any way to know how it worked, and has dedicated a disturbingly large amount of time over the last two years stalking and defaming Jones online.
That fabricated National Review article came just two weeks before Jones received official whistleblower protection - which the state had been informed was in the works earlier that month.
Similarly, the state's audit report was initially sent to officials on May 26, 2022- the same day NBC's Marc Caputo reached out to Jones' lawyers for a quote on the confidential report that was leaked to him before it was even sent to Jones' legal team.
Their failed attempts to distract the public and defame Rebekah Jones only further substantiate the vindictiveness of a Governor whose day of reckoning is very near on the horizon, solidifying Jones' place in Florida history as a hero for the people who stood up to a ruthless tyrant and walked away victorious.
Very few candidates for public office have experienced the full weight of a corrupt regime's power and walked away stronger, smarter and better for it. That's the candidate Rebekah Jones is and it's why you should support her campaign to defeat Matt Gaetz today.