Ron DeSantis Faces Lawsuit to Make Florida COVID Data Public Amid Delta Surge

A lawsuit has been filed in Florida by a Democratic lawmaker and a non-profit group that is accusing the state's Department of Health (FDOH) of violating public-records laws by refusing to offer daily data reports on the COVID pandemic.

Democratic state Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith and the Florida Center for Government Accountability filed the lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Court on Monday, claiming that the health department told them that the data is no longer a public record.

Florida reported daily COVID figures in the state, including cases and deaths and breakdowns by county until June 4, but since then it has only published the data on a weekly basis with less detailed information available.

At the time that the state stopped reporting daily COVID figures, it had seen a total of 2.3 million cases since the start of the pandemic, but that figure now stands at around 3.2 million amid rising cases and hospitalizations in Florida over the last two months due to the highly contagious Delta variant.

The lawsuit, seen and reported on by The Miami Herald, alleges that Florida's Department of Health and Surgeon General Scott Rivkees have violated public-records laws at a time of rising COVID cases in the state.

"Due to the highly contagious nature of COVID-19 and its 'continuing threat' to Floridians, records revealing information about its impact, prevalence and fatality is of obvious public importance," the lawsuit claims.

"Floridians have an immediate need for access to information about the virus and its impact and spread in particular communities. This information is vital to the ability of citizens to understand the risks and make informed decisions about their lives."

Smith said:"I don't want to have to sue the state," but the lawsuit claimed it is necessary "so that the public will have knowledge of and the ability to scrutinize their government's response to the rampaging virus. This is the paramount goal of open government laws."

The lawsuit was filed following attempts by Smith and the Florida Center for Government Accountability in July and August to get daily reports on cases, deaths and hospitalizations caused by COVID in the state.

Both Smith and the organization were denied the requests and were told by officials that the data they asked for were "considered confidential and exempt from public disclosure."

The lawsuit is challenging this claim, reading: "The department previously released and published on a daily basis the very information sought by plaintiffs. Additionally, the department and governor have recognized that the need for the public to be informed about the virus' spread is critical to ensuring public confidence in COVID-19 mitigation strategies."

Christina Pushaw, the press secretary for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, told NBC affiliate WFLA on Tuesday that the data doesn't have merit as the figures are given to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) throughout the week.

"Public health surveillance and controlling the spread of infectious diseases have always been core functions of the Florida Department of Health," Pushaw said. "FDOH reports data routinely and automatically to the CDC, which in turn updates its national COVID dashboard on a daily basis Monday through Friday."

Face Mask Mandate

Florida has been badly affected by the Delta variant over the last two months. It has reported record figures for hospitalizations and cases from COVID multiple times while face mask mandates were banned in the state by Governor Ron DeSantis before that was overturned after it was ruled that he had overstepped his authority.

Figures from The Miami Herald on Monday showed that the state averaged 262 additional COVID deaths per day over the seven days prior, equating to about 10.92 deaths per hour, while Florida has now recorded 44,553 deaths and more than 3 million cases in total since the beginning of the pandemic.

Newsweek has contacted DeSantis' office and Rivkees for comment.

Health care workers in Florida
Health care workers are seen during a Covid-19 vaccination event hosted by Miami Heat at FTX Arena in Miami, on August 5, 2021. A new lawsuit has been filed in Florida by a Democratic lawmaker and a non-profit group that is accusing the state’s Department of Health of violating public-records laws by refusing to offer daily data reports of the COVID pandemic. Getty Images and AFP via Getty Images/Joe Raedle and Chandan Khanna