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Media Target DeSantis After Data Analyst Is Fired; DeSantis Dismisses, Quotes Email From Employee
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gives updates about the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic during a press conference on April 17, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The governor announced that starting Saturday, two walk-up testing sites will open in Broward County — one at the Urban League of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale and the other at Mitchell Moore Park in Pompano Beach. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

On Tuesday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis responded to the flurry of criticism over the firing of Rebekah Jones, a data analyst for the Florida Department of Health who worked on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, calling the situation a “nonissue” and noting that Jones had sent an email to her supervisor saying some of her comments were being misinterpreted.

“I don’t know who she is but they gave me an email that she sent to her supervisor, said that, ‘Uh-oh, I may have said something that was misrepresented,'” said the governor Tuesday, as reported by the Post-Gazette. DeSantis then provided the rest of the quote from Jones’ email: “I said they’ve 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.”

DeSantis’ office released a statement Tuesday saying Jones was fired after a “repeated course of insubordination… including her unilateral decisions to modify the Department’s COVID-19 dashboard without input or approval from the epidemiological team or her supervisors.”

“Accuracy and transparency are always indispensable, especially during an unprecedented public health emergency such as COVID-19,” the statement continued. “Having someone disruptive cannot be tolerated during this public pandemic, which led the Department to determine that it was best to terminate her employment.”

Jones told Florida Today that she had been fired on Monday. Florida Today ran the headline, “Coronavirus: As Florida re-opens, COVID-19 data chief gets sidelined and researchers cry foul.” The report opened:

Late last Friday, the architect and manager of Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard — praised by White House officials for its accessibility — announced that she had been removed from her post, causing outcry from independent researchers now worried about government censorship.

Jones claimed in an email to CBS12 in West Palm Beach that she was fired because she refused to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”

Jones’ claims were widely echoed, with the media turning the accusation into an attack on the DeSantis administration. USA TODAY ran this headline, “Florida’s scientist was fired for refusing to ‘manipulate’ COVID-19 data.” USA Today reported:

In an email last Friday to researchers and other data users, Jones warned that with her removal changes were likely coming to the accessibility and transparency of the dashboard data.

“They are making a lot of changes. I would advise being diligent in your respective uses of this data,” she wrote.

Researchers who saw the email reacted with shock and dismay, suggesting it could be evidence that the Gov. Ron De Santis’ government was censoring information to support the case for re-opening Florida.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel titled their report on Jones’ removal: “Analyst was praised for creating and running Florida’s coronavirus data website. Now she says she was fired for challenging secrecy.”

Politico targeted the DeSantis administration, writing, “It wasn’t until early Tuesday evening that the DeSantis administration responded by calling Jones ‘insubordinate’ and pushing back against media reports that she had single-handedly managed Florida’s coronavirus dashboard.” Politico described the claim as “another example of the DeSantis administration having to deal with questions about transparency.”

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