A Florida data scientist who claimed she was fired by the state for not doctoring coronavirus figures released her own COVID-19 map.
Former state Department of Health worker Rebekah Jones said she was fired because she refused to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”
So now the enterprising Sunshine Stater has created her own map, similar to Florida’s version, except for one major additional detail: her map includes report cards for each county on whether they meet the state’s own criteria for entering the next phase of reopening.
Jones told NPR she hopes to give people a source of trusted information untainted by the politics of reopening.
“I think I’m uniquely equipped to try to help with that,” she said, “so that’s what I’m doing. I just I don’t want people to panic. I don’t want anybody to feel afraid or powerless.”
By Jones’ calculations, only four of Florida’s 67 counties are ready to loosen coronavirus restrictions.
She has said she tried to add the report cards to the state’s own data portal, but health department officials made her drop the feature when they realized it cast the state’s progress in a negative light.
“When I went to show them what the report card would say for each county, among other things, they asked me to delete the report card because it showed that no counties, pretty much, were ready for reopening,” she told NPR. “And they didn’t want to draw attention to that.”
A superior asked her to go into the data behind its map and alter the numbers so that the state’s coronavirus positivity rating would change from 18 percent to 10 percent, making the state appear to meet its reopening target.
Florida entered Phase 1 of its reopening on May 4, in all counties except Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. It eased restrictions again on June 5 when the state declared the counties’ had entered Phase 2.
But the state is now among more than a dozen experiencing a marked resurgence in cases.
Already among the hardest-hit states in the country, Florida registered more than 2,500 new cases in a 24-hour window from Friday to Saturday, according to data from Johns Hopkins. It’s registered more than 75,000 confirmed cases and nearly 3,000 deaths.
Jones has attributed the state’s shady behavior to incompetence rather than active conspiracy.
“To me, it did not read like some kind of political conspiracy or some higher directive,” Jones says. “It seemed like people who expected when I brought in those results, the results to support the plan they had written, and they did not, they seemed panicked, and like they had to figure out a way to make the results match the plan.”
Florida’s Department of Health did not respond to a Post request for comment.