When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) refused to shut down his state and wreck its economy like Blue States California and New York, the media looked for any data it could to show that DeSantis was wrong and Democrats were right.
That evidence didn’t materialize, as Florida fared either better or no worse during the pandemic than states that completely shut down and ruined millions of livelihoods. So, when a “whistleblower” came forward claiming she had been directed to falsify Florida’s COVID-19 data, the media jumped at the opportunity to repeat her story – no questions asked. Well, no questions asked about her story, that is.
That “whistleblower” was Rebekah Jones, who helped manage Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard. She claimed that higher-ups instructed her to input different data than what they received, in an effort to make Florida look like it was handling the coronavirus pandemic better than it really was. But as National Review reported in a lengthy and gripping takedown, Jones’ claims aren’t even plausible on their face, as she never handled raw data and was given a copy of the data she was supposed to input in the system. Had any fudging actually occurred, it would have occurred before it was given to Jones (and there’s no evidence of any such thing). Had Jones input the numbers differently than what she was told, it would have been immediately obvious.
Further, Jones’ story changed dramatically the more she told it, from her initial claims that she was fired for merely questioning the data. The Associated Press initially reported that “Jones has not alleged any tampering with data on deaths, hospital symptom surveillance, hospitalizations for COVID-19, numbers of new confirmed cases, or overall testing rates — core elements of any assessment of the outbreak and of federal criteria for reopening.” The outlet also noted that “Jones acknowledges Florida has been relatively transparent — for which she herself claims some credit — and relatively successful in controlling the pandemic.”
Since that initial story, however, Jones began saying that, actually, yeah, her superiors – particularly Dr. Shamarial Roberson – had directly instructed her to “delete cases and deaths” to make Florida look better. She now claims Roberson “asked me to go into the raw data and manually alter figures.”
Again, remember that Jones didn’t have access to the raw data. She merely ran the dashboard. To further illustrate this point, National Review pointed out that Jones now runs her own dashboard, using the same data as the state, she simply displays it differently:
Or, to put it more bluntly, she displays them badly. When you get past all of the nonsense, what Jones is ultimately saying is that the State of Florida—and, by extension, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—has not processed its data in the same way that she would if she were in charge. But, frankly, why would it? Again, Jones isn’t an epidemiologist, and her objections, while compelling to the sort of low-information political obsessive she is so good at attracting, betray a considerable ignorance of the material issues. In order to increase the numbers in Florida’s case count, Jones counts positive antibody tests as cases. But that’s unsound, given that (a) those positives include people who have already had COVID-19 or who have had the vaccine, and (b) Jones is unable to avoid double-counting people who have taken both an antibody test and a COVID test that came back positive, because the state correctly refuses to publish the names of the people who have taken those tests. Likewise, Jones claims that Florida is hiding deaths because it does not include nonresidents in its headline numbers. But Florida does report nonresident deaths; it just reports them separately, as every state does, and as the CDC’s guidelines demand. Jones’s most recent claim is that Florida’s “excess death” number is suspicious. But that, too, has been rigorously debunked by pretty much everyone who understands what “excess deaths” means in an epidemiological context—including by the CDC; by Daniel Weinberger, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health; by Lauren Rossen, a statistician at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics; and, most notably, by Jason Salemi, an epidemiologist at the University of South Florida, who, having gone to the trouble of making a video explaining calmly why the talking point was false, was then bullied off Twitter by Jones and her followers.
Of course, none of this has stopped Democrats and their media supporters from pushing Jones’ claims as fact in an effort to shame Florida and DeSantis. Jones is painted as a martyr, even though her personnel file shows she crashed Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard because she was reprimanded for releasing health-department data and speaking on behalf of her employer without permission. Jones went so far as to lock everyone but herself out of the dashboard when she crashed it. She wasn’t even fired for this, because Florida’s Department of Health (FDOH) showed almost infinite patience with her and tried to de-escalate her increasingly bad behavior before it finally fired her for sending a mass email claiming she was no longer assigned to the dashboard for refusing to manipulate data. She said this despite the documented truth: She was an erratic and problematic employee, a reputation that had followed her from previous jobs.
Don’t expect the media to give up the narrative that Florida’s COVID-19 data was falsified any time soon, no matter what the evidence against Jones may be.
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