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Rebekah Jones had her say on CNN Wednesday. Image via Rebekah Jones.

Coronavirus in Florida

Deleting deaths? Former Florida COVID-19 data scientist says numbers cooked

Rebekah Jones was fired last month.

Conspiracy theory or whistleblowing? Whatever the case, former Department of Health data scientist Rebekah Jones continues to challenge the state’s coronavirus narrative.

On the Wednesday morning edition of CNN’s New Day, Jones questioned the state’s approach to data, one that has seen shifting parameters in recent days and weeks, including changes in how ICU bed capacity is calculated.

Jones has charged on her Twitter account that the state is actually “slowly” deleting cases and even deaths. She alleges the goal is to create a narrative that Florida has gotten over the hump, in terms of case management, ahead of the July 4 holiday.

When asked about these claims of deletion of 1,200 cases in the last week, which she says were confirmed by DOH employees, Jones said she “vetted” the claims fully, adding that internal contacts are still on her side after her firing.

“There are a few brave souls at DOH who still talk to me and communicate with me,” Jones said, and they are leaking her documents and information, including “emails, communications, other documentation.”

“I’ve checked the numbers myself,” Jones said. “That does seem to be what’s going on.”

The deletions come from the master death list, Jones added. Some previously identified cases “have just disappeared from the file.”

“That volume over time is shocking,” Jones said, adding that as the current surge in increased positives tapers off next week, the state can say it got over the hump ahead of the July 4 holiday.

Jones noted that “Florida deletes non-resident deaths in its public facing information,” but keeps those in “back end data.”

In her own data tabulation, those non-resident deaths count as part of the larger toll.

“These are people who got sick and died here in a Florida hospital … and I think people care more about where the virus is in their community than if someone has a permanent legal address in Florida,” Jones said, noting those deaths are evidence of community spread.

Jones was fired from the Department of Health in May. According to her, it was due to her refusal to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.” The narrative from DOH and the Governor’s office was different.

The Governor’s head spokesperson, Helen Aguirre Ferre, bashed Jones for a “repeated course of insubordination during her time with the Department, including her unilateral decisions to modify the Department’s COVID-19 dashboard without input or approval from the epidemiological team or her supervisors.”

The Governor attacked her upon her dismissal, saying that she was “not even a data scientist,” that she hadn’t developed the Florida COVID-19 Dashboard as she had claimed, and slinging mud about some personal and legal issues in Jones’ past.

“She should have been dismissed long before that,” DeSantis said at the time.

However, with the state’s data called into question post-Jones, national media is vindicating her position and amplifying her dissident narrative.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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