Probe: No merit to COVID-19 data suppression charge at UF

A faculty-led committee says allegations likely stemmed from a single incident

University of Florida in Gainesville.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A University of Florida investigation has found no merit to allegations that state or university officials pressured researchers to suppress or destroy COVID-19 research data, school officials said Wednesday.

A faculty-led committee formed to investigate the allegations said they likely stemmed from a single incident in October 2020 when a Florida Department of Health official expressed concern about how University of Florida researchers were using the data, a report summarizing the findings said.

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The data were gathered exclusively for use in Department of Health public health surveillance activities, and UF researchers had been hired to assist in the public heath surveillance. The UF researchers were required to sign an agreement promising not to release the data and agreeing to follow the health agency's rules, the report said.

Some of the researchers shared the data during an online meeting in ways inconsistent with the confidentiality agreements they had signed. A Department of Health official notified the university, and university administrators reminded the UF team about their obligation to follow the confidentiality agreements, the report said.

“As such, the matter was quickly resolved and the collaborative efforts between FDOH and UF continued," school administrators said in a letter to University of Florida President Ken Fuchs.

Fuchs has said this will be his final year leading the university. Last year, his administration came under fire after three professors were barred from testifying in a lawsuit on behalf of civic groups challenging the state’s new election laws, which they say would restrict voting rights.

Fuchs’ administration said such testimony would put the school in conflict with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who pushed the election law. More than half of the university’s trustees are appointed by the governor.

The professors sued and Fuchs reversed the position in November, saying the professors could testify if they did it on their own time and didn’t use school resources