Ousted Designer Of Florida's COVID-19 Dashboard Says She Was Asked To Censor Data

Rebekah Jones said she was dismissed after refusing to “manually change data” to present a favorable picture for the state’s efforts to reopen.

The Florida official in charge of designing and managing the state’s online dashboard of COVID-19 data says she was fired after refusing to censor and “manually change data” in order to present a picture justifying the state’s process of reopening and loosening COVID-19 restrictions.

Rebekah Jones, who led a group of data scientists and public health experts at Florida’s Department of Health, announced her departure in an email to colleagues late Friday, according to Florida Today.

On Monday, Jones told Florida’s CBS12 that her removal from the dashboard position, effective May 5, was “not voluntary,” saying she was dismissed after refusing to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”

A spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, Helen Ferre, confirmed Jones’ departure in a statement to the Miami Herald.

“The Florida COVID-19 Dashboard was created by the Geographic Information System (GIS) team in the Division of Disease Control and Health Protection at the Florida Department of Health,” she said. “Although Rebekah Jones is no longer involved, the GIS team continues to manage and update the Dashboard providing accurate and important information that is publicly accessible.”

Ferre added in a statement to HuffPost that 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.”

In her email Friday, Jones said the management of the dashboard — which initially earned widespread praise for its transparency and accessibility, and has since been replicated by officials in other states — was now under a new team for “reasons beyond my division’s control.”

At several points, she expressed concern about the new team, such as “what data they are now restricting.”

“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,” she wrote, according to Florida Today. “After all, my commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it.”

Officials in Georgia, where the state’s rapid reopening has come under much scrutiny, have also faced questions about misrepresenting COVID-19 data.

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