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Controversy Over Florida's COVID Site Just Got Worse

Scientist says she was fired for refusing to change data to 'drum up support' for reopening
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 19, 2020 11:05 AM CDT
Updated May 19, 2020 1:44 PM CDT

(Newser) – Florida's state government has a growing controversy on its hands over an online "dashboard" used to track COVID-19 data. The scientist who created the widely praised tool tells Florida Today that she was fired for refusing to "manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen" the state. Rebekah Jones did not provide further details on what she was asked to change, but she says she was fired from her job as Geographic Information Systems manager for the state Department of Health last week. The state has not yet responded to the allegations that Jones was asked to change data, per CBS 12. The issue went public late last week when Jones sent out an email to users of the dashboard saying that she was no longer involved with it, though at the time, it wasn't clear she had been fired.

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"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, per the Miami Herald. Jones didn't elaborate in that original email about why her superiors took control of the site. "I have no knowledge about their plans, what data they are now restricting, what data will be added and when, or any of that," she wrote. Earlier—before Jones made her allegations about being asked to change data—a spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis said the site would continue to provide "accurate and important information," but researchers sounded worried. "We would not accept this lack of transparency for any other natural disaster, so why are we willing to accept it here?" said Jennifer Larsen of the University of Central Florida. (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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