Rebekah Jones, fired coronavirus data scientist, files whistleblower complaint
By MARIO ARIZA, SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL,JULY 17, 2020.
Rebekah Jones, the Florida coronavirus data scientist who was fired in early May for alleged insubordination, has filed a whistleblower complaint against the Florida Department of Health, saying that she was removed from her post for refusing to falsify data.
The complaint comes during a moment of heightened scrutiny of Florida’s public coronavirus statistics and an explosion in virus infections that has some calling the state — and South Florida specifically — the epicenter of the global pandemic.
Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis has denied the allegations of data falsification.
During a May 20 news conference that represents the most substantive statements to date by state officials on the matter, DeSantis downplayed Jones’ role in operating the state’s online COVID-19 platform and aired her messy legal fight with a former boyfriend.
“Our data is available, our data is transparent,‘’ a bristling DeSantis responded to media during the May 20 conference. “So any insinuation otherwise is just typical partisan narrative trying to be spun.
Rick Johnson, the Tallahassee lawyer representing the ousted data scientist, called the complaint straightforward. “They told her to fudge the numbers and she said ‘no,’ so they fired her and fudged the numbers without her,” he says.
The complaint, filed with the Florida Commission on Human Relations on Thursday, is not available to the public.
The Florida Department of Health did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A series of emails between Jones and top Florida Department of Health Officials obtained by the South Florida Sun Sentinel in early May show that Jones was ordered to sever public access to raw data on the dashboard.
Jones has also continued to call into question the veracity of Florida’s coronavirus statistics.
When asked why he took Jones’ case, Johnson said the current magnitude of the virus outbreak in Florida and the rush to reopen compelled him to represent her.
“We opened before the data told us that it was safe to open, because that’s just the DeSantis-Trump ideology,” says Johnson.
Johnson says the ideal outcome of the complaint would include compensation for lost pay, “and she’ll get compensation for her emotional distress, and we will get some kind of reform of the system, so a thing like this doesn’t happen again.”
Florida’s coronavirus outbreak dashboard garnered national acclaim, at one point drawing the praise of coronavirus task force member Dr. Deborah Birx.
Since Jones’ firing on May 6, the dashboard has broken down multiple times.