Critics Switch Gears to Florida’s Coronavirus Dashboard as DeSantis’s Approach Yields Positive Results

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a law enforcement memorial service at the Capitol Monday April 29, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)
AP Photo/Steve Cannon

Critics are switching gears in their criticisms of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) as metrics show that his tailored response has spared the Sunshine State from an overwhelming surge in coronavirus cases, and are now focusing on the state’s coronavirus dashboard following the news that the manager of the project no longer oversees it.

Rebekah Jones, who Florida Today described as the “architect and manager” of  Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard, announced this month that she will no longer oversee and manage the dashboard.

Her departure, she said, is involuntary, citing “reasons beyond my division’s control.”

Per Florida Today:

The dashboard has been a one-stop shop for researchers, the media and the public to access and download tables of COVID-19 cases, testing and death data to analyze freely. It had been widely hailed as a shining example of transparency and accessibility.

But over the last few weeks it had “crashed” and gone offline; data has gone missing without explanation and access to the underlying data sheets has become increasingly difficult.

Jones hinted at censorship as a primary reason for her removal from her role, telling CBS12 that she refused to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”

The Tampa Bay Times reported that officials “had directed her to remove data from public view that showed Floridians reported symptoms of the disease before cases were officially announced.”

“This is the wrong call,” Jones reportedly said.

Questions over accurate coronavirus data have haunted other states throughout the pandemic, with skeptics accusing officials of inflating the numbers of coronavirus deaths, lumping in “probable” cases of the virus with confirmed cases and “probable” coronavirus deaths with confirmed coronavirus deaths. Pennsylvania experienced this issue last month, with the coronavirus death count fluctuating — two spikes and a decrease — over the course of a week.

“I understand, appreciate, and even share your concern about all the dramatic changes that have occurred and those that are yet to come,” Jones said in a letter regarding her departure from the project, warning that the next team would likely not be as transparent as her office.

“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. After all, my commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it,” she added.

Jones’s remarks were were enough for DeSantis’s critics to resume their outspoken disapprovals of the governor:

Florida Today admitted that “data access has not worsened further, yet, but researchers are sounding the alarm in response to Jones’ email.”

The news follows months of criticisms lodged against DeSantis over his refusal to immediately implement draconian lockdown orders in the Sunshine State or threaten localities and businesses with harsh penalties in the event of noncompliance.

Rather, DeSantis’s response largely focused on securing down nursing homes — something that did not initially occur in New York or Pennsylvania, which instructed personal care facilities to accept stable coronavirus patients.

Officials in Florida, however, took swift action, banning entry to nursing homes with few exceptions.

“Florida’s approach was to avoid introducing the disease into long-term care facilities,” he said last week. “We drew a firm red line.”

Overall, Florida is faring better than its blue state counterparts despite early media criticism.

“We understood the outbreak was not uniform throughout the state, and we had a tailored and measured approach that not only helped our numbers be way below what anyone predicted, but also did less damage to our state going forward,” DeSantis said during an April 28 meeting with President Trump.

“I had construction going on, the road projects. We did it in a safe way, and we did it. I think, in a way that is probably more sustainable over the long term. So I think people can go back and look at all the criticism and then look now,” he added.

Florida, with a population of over 21 million, is currently in the first phase of reopening, allowing salons, restaurants, and gyms to operate at a limited capacity.

Florida had 45,684 confirmed cases of the virus and 2,052 related deaths, as of Monday. New York, which has a slightly smaller population of 19 million-plus, reported over 351,371 confirmed cases of the virus and 22,729 deaths as of Monday.

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