Ousted Official Who Managed Florida's Public COVID-19 'Dashboard' Suggests Lack of Transparency as State Reopens

Rebekah Jones, an official at the Florida Department of Health who oversaw the state's public COVID-19 "dashboard," has been removed from managing the data and cautioned that the decision could negatively impact transparency about infections.

In an email to users of Florida's novel coronavirus data portal, Jones, the geographic information system manager for the Florida Health Department's Division of Disease Control and Health Protection, said that she had been removed from overseeing the dashboard. Jones noted that this decision had been made for "reasons beyond my division's control." The email was first reported by Florida Today on Monday.

"I understand, appreciate, and even share your concern about all the dramatic changes that have occurred and those that are yet to come," Jones, who holds a Ph.D. in geography, wrote.

"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," the official wrote in the email. "After all, my commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it."

Florida beach
A crowd of beachgoers watches the U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform a flyover on May 8 in Jacksonville, Florida, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Sam Greenwood/Getty

Newsweek has reached out to the Florida Department of Health and the office of Governor Ron DeSantis for comment.

Helen Aguirre Ferré, a spokesperson for Florida's governor, shared a statement with The Miami Herald about Jones' remarks.

"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. 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," Ferré said.

As The Herald reported, DeSantis had praised his administration's transparency with COVID-19 data. However, his government has faced criticism in regards to transparency about the number of infections in nursing homes and prisons. Questions have also circulated about testing backlogs and how early the novel coronavirus first emerged in the state.

Jones' email and her concerns about transparency come as Florida moves quickly to reopen its economy. The state was initially slow to implement a statewide lockdown, despite the urging of local leaders in hard-hit municipalities. Now the southeastern state aims to reopen rapidly as new coronavirus infections appear to be increasing.

After recording 502 new infections on May 15, the state saw 1,189 new confirmed cases on Sunday and then 1,541 new cases on Monday. Since the start of the pandemic, Florida has recorded more than 45,000 cases of the novel virus. Of those infected, 1,973 have died.