As Florida continues to inch towards a full reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic, the number of new cases of the disease continues to climb.
In order to provide viewers with up-to-date information on new cases and fatalities associated with COVID-19, News 6 has used a dashboard created by a data team at the Florida Department of Health daily to show a breakdown of coronavirus cases across the state.
However, Florida Today reported Monday that the initial architect responsible for creating the COVID-19 dashboard — praised by White House health officials for its accessibility — announced that she had been removed from her post, causing an outcry from independent researchers now worried about government censorship.
The dashboard has been used by both the public and researchers to access and download tables of COVID-19 cases, testing and death data to analyze freely.
According to Florida Today, the site was created by a team of FDOH data scientists and public health officers headed by Rebekah Jones. She announced last week her removal as of May 5 in a heartfelt farewell note emailed to researchers and other members of the public who had signed up to receive updates on the data portal.
Citing “reasons beyond my division’s control,” Jones said her office is no longer managing the dashboard, is no longer involved in its publication, the fixing of errors or answering questions related to the dashboard “in any shape or form.”
She warned that she does not know what the new team’s intentions are for data access, including “what data they are now restricting.”
“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,” Jones wrote in her farewell note.
Commissioner Nikki Fried is now requesting a cabinet briefing on the fired DOH employee.
“I don’t know who she is but they gave me an email that she sent to her supervisor said that you know ‘Uh oh I may have said something that was misrepresented, I said they got a team working on it now and what I meant when I said don’t expect the same level of accessibility is that they are busy and can’t answer every single email they get right away and that it was ridiculous that I managed to do it in the first place and that I was tired and needed a break from working two months straight and finally take a vacation’ that’s what she wrote then," Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Tuesday.
While it is unclear how the dashboard will be modified without the original data team in place, it still remains as the only source for official COVID-19 statistical data for the state. No other independent source reports this data for the state of Florida making the task of confirming all statistical information released by the FDOH problematic.
Based on updated information added to the FDOH dashboard Tuesday, the state saw 502 new cases of COVID-19 since Monday afternoon, as well as 52 new deaths as a result of the respiratory illness.
These new numbers bring the total cases of COVID-19 reported in the state since it was first detected on March 1 to 46,944 and the total number of deaths to 2,049.
The state does not provide information on the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19.
Here’s how cases of coronavirus breakdown locally by county in Central Florida:
|County||Total cases||Total hospitalizations||Total deaths|
Gov. Ron DeSantis is also responding to a topic fraught with uncertainty and anger for many Floridians: unemployment benefits. The governor said Monday that most remaining unsettled claims in the state’s heavily criticized unemployment system are due to incomplete applications.
DeSantis said forms often lack Social Security numbers or information about wages earned when the applicants were employed or they improperly list reasons for people being out of work.
“We were in Tampa the other day, and one of the reporters said, ‘You know, I have someone here who has been unable to (get approved), filed them in mid-March,’” DeSantis said Monday while in Orlando. “So, it’s like, give us a name. We took the name, and it turns out the employer’s contesting it, saying that the individual quit.”
Meanwhile, as of Tuesday, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity reported over 1.5 million Floridians had filed unique claims for unemployment benefits, and as of the same time, about 900,000 claimants had been paid.