Florida scientist says she was fired because she wouldn’t ‘manipulate the data’ to fit Republicans’ narrative

The Department of Health in Florida has allegedly fired a data scientist collecting information about Covid-19 cases.

Rebekah Jones created a dashboard that was used by the state of Florida to monitor the increase in the number of Covid-19 cases. The tool had even received praise from Deborah Birx, who has been coordinating the coronavirus task force from inside the White House.

Yet Jones said in an email last week that she had been removed from the project.

She emailed local news station Florida Today to say that she had not left her position voluntarily, and that she had been removed from her position because she “refused to manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen”.

Jones also alleged in an email to her team that she had been removed from the position for reasons beyond her control.

In the weeks since she was removed (she left around 5 May), the dashboard has apparently been faulty, gone offline at points and has crashed with inaccurate information.

In her email, she said:

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.

Emails that the Tampa Bay Times obtained showed that Jones objected to the removal of records showing people had positive tests or symptoms, before the cases were announced. Some data indicated that people had been reporting symptoms in Florida as far back as January, which had not been publicised.

At a news conference, the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis (who has also been pushing hard to get businesses to reopen) said that her removal from the Health Department was a “non issue”, and that he believes from another email he saw that was sent to her supervisor, that she “was tired and needed a break”.

Florida is one of the states in the US that has seen anti-lockdown protests in recent weeks.

In the past week, barber shops, retail stores, and restaurants, as well as other establishments have been reopening, with social distancing measures.

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