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A Florida Department Of Health Scientist Says She Was Fired For Refusing To Manipulate COVID-19 Data

DOH scientist Rebekah Jones was fired from her role in May. She created the COVID-19 dashboard seen above.
Florida Department of Health
DOH scientist Rebekah Jones was fired from her role in May. She created the COVID-19 dashboard seen above.

A spokeswoman for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis says the women overseeing the state’s COVID-19 dashboard was fired for insubordination.

"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," DeSantis Communications spokeswoman Helen Ferre wrote to reporters in an email.

" The blatant disrespect for the professionals who were working around the clock to provide the important information for the COVID-19 website was harmful to the team."

Gov. Ron DeSantis was asked about the decision to fire Jones. He said he didn't know Jones, repeated the assertion she was terminated for insubordination and pivoted to the COVID-19 dashboard.

“Our dashboard has been recognized nationally," DeSantis said. "It’s a heck of a tool."

Democrats are protesting Jones' removal. The Florida Democratic Party is calling for an independent investigation into Jones' charge that she was being asked to manipulate data in a way that would support plans for the state to reopen businesses.

“She was a brave woman who refused to fudge the numbers and she was punished for it and that’s wrong," said state Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa.

Cruz says she expects Jones to file a whistleblower lawsuit. Commissioner Nikki Fried is asking for a cabinet briefing on the incident. The timing comes amid ongoing questions about the accuracy of the state’s COVID-19 data reporting. According to the Tampa Bay Times, a day before Jones lost oversight of the data, she refused to remove the records of symptomatic and positive cases before they were announced by the state.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.