Florida’s online coronavirus database creator said she was removed from her position after she contested the state Department of Health’s efforts to make the information harder to access for the public, researchers and the media.
“I’m leaving DOH effective next Monday," Rebekah Jones told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "I wasn’t given a choice.”
Jones helped build Florida’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard, which received public praise because of its transparency.
The site reports how many people in the state have the coronavirus, hospitalizations from the virus and other data points. Users can narrow the search by county.
Internal emails obtained by the Sun Sentinel show Jones did not want to comply with her bosses' requests to change the site so people wouldn’t be able to download it for analysis.
In a May 4 email from Jones to Department of Health IT Director Craig Curry, she wrote, “I’m not pulling our primary resource for coronavirus data because he wants to stick it to journalists and make them copy and paste from the tables in the pdfs. If it’s in the dashboard, it’s public. Period. There is no way around that."
She continued, “We have gained national — no, international — notoriety for being the best state in the country with data transparency. I’m not trashing all of that work and progress because he got asked a few question by reporters — which I read and were completely fair and legitimate questions that should have been asked.”
It is unclear who the identity of the “he” Jones references.
About two hours later, Curry emailed, telling her that "per Dr. [Carina] Blackmore, disable the ability to export the data to files from the dashboard immediately.”
“This is the wrong call,” Jones responded.
The next morning, Blackmore emailed Jones and Curry to “get the web populated in a way that doesn’t expose the raw data to those who don’t need access.”
Jones, who was GIS manager in the Division of Disease Control and Health Protection, sent a mass email on Friday highlighting her struggle.
She publicized that she’d been removed from involvement in the dashboard and that it had been reassigned to employees she didn’t think would give it the attention it needs.
“As a word of caution,” she warned in her email, “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. After all, my commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it."
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