Judge allows news giants to join Carlos Guillermo Smith lawsuit over COVID-19 data
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coronavirus lawsuit
The trial is set for Sept. 29-30.

A coalition of media companies has been granted permission to join Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith’s lawsuit against the state Department of Health and outgoing Surgeon General Scott Rivkees for the agency’s refusal to release previously public COVID-19 data.

Judge John Cooper of the 2nd Judicial Circuit overruled objections by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration Monday afternoon to allow eight news companies and the charitable First Amendment Foundation to intervene as plaintiffs in the suit.

Smith and the Florida Center for Government Accountability (FLGCA) filed the action late last month.

The companies include The Associated Press, Gannett Co., The McClatchy Company, The New York Times, Scripps Media, Sun-Sentinel Company, Times Publishing Co. and WP Company.

Cooper — the same judge who invalidated DeSantis’ ban on school mask rules Sept. 3, a move later reversed pending appeal — batted away objections by the state’s lawyer in the case, Rick Figlio, who argued including the companies would create “unmanageable political theater.”

The Judge also rejected Figlio’s request to postpone the trial for 40 days. He set the trial for Sept. 29-30.

“Public records delayed are public records denied,” FLGCA lawyer Andrea Mogensen said.

State lawmakers, news companies and government accountability organizations have been requesting COVID-19 information from the state for months. Numerous information requests Florida Politics sent FDOH and its spokesperson, Weesam Khoury, have gone unanswered.

Smith sent the Orange County Health Department a public records request on July 23. The information he asked for would not have identified anyone, but it “would illustrate the larger impacts of the virus on Orange County — including the ages, sex, ethnic and racial demographics of those with confirmed cases of the virus, and vaccination rates for the county,” his office said.

The state Health Department denied the request on Aug. 16, citing state rules exempting “confidential” information concerning research of a disease with public health significance from public disclosure. The statutes in question say information from epidemiological research may be “made public only when necessary to the public health.”

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FLGCA also asked for COVID-19 data for all 67 counties and was similarly denied.

Florida suffered record-high death counts in August, the worst period of mortality since the pandemic struck in March 2020. On a possibly related note, DeSantis’ office announced that Rivkees will exit the administration this month.

Last week, county-level COVID-19 death reports became publicly available for the first time in more than three months on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

The lawsuit isn’t punitive; it seeks to force the state to resume daily dashboard reporting as it did on weekdays for roughly a year before it went dark in June.

But Figlio said in court Monday the information Smith and others requested, most of which is provided to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention daily, “exists in an indecipherable form” that can’t readily be published online.

He reiterated the state’s position that the data “is all confidential and exempt information unless the department determines that it is not.”

Nonsense, Smith said.

“If it’s confidential now, as they claim, was it confidential before when it was on the dashboard for every day for almost a year? It doesn’t make sense,” he told NBC affiliate WESH after the hearing. “What they’re doing is a huge disservice to Floridians who need access to real-time COVID-19 information so they can make informed decisions on how to best protect themselves and their families.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


8 comments

  • zhombre

    September 21, 2021 at 12:20 pm

    There are no ‘news giants.’ They are dwarfs grown large and arrogant, who function as Democrats with bylines.

    • Professor Emeritus

      September 21, 2021 at 2:32 pm

      Spoken like a true Q-anon zombie

      • zhombre

        September 21, 2021 at 2:47 pm

        I don’t follow or endorse Q-anon and fuck you too.

  • ScienceBLVR

    September 21, 2021 at 2:15 pm

    So the question is.. what is DeSantis trying to hide? Of course we know the reporting of daily deaths, positive cases, and hospitalizations would not reflect well on his inept and deadly leadership. But then we would know just how incompetent he is and voters who have sick or dead family members may suddenly be stirred from their slavish misplaced adoration and vote this imbecile out. I thought Trump was mentally deranged, but this guy is just plain cruel and obviously cares more about his reelection chances than the people he supposedly represents. . He must not realize everyone who follows his anti mask mandate idiocy have much increased shot at death and illness.

    • Professor Emeritus

      September 21, 2021 at 2:37 pm

      We only now on 21 have even an approxiomation of August deaths. At least 8769 Floridians died in august forma disease they got from others in Florida Probably AT LEAST 300 more august deaths will be recorded, and then 10,000 deaths in September. He is terrified of the daily drumbeat of how many anti vaxxers are dying at the same time he is being hostile to vaccine and mask mandates., He hats the comparison to New York with its death rate about 1/14th of Florida. that is why he is trying to whip up a diversion around MCA treatment. Anything to distract form the death toll

      • Tom

        September 21, 2021 at 9:43 pm

        You are a liar.
        This is all dishonest and untrue.
        You have no proof and do not know what you ate saying. Fake news.

  • vgg

    September 22, 2021 at 5:48 am

    hy

  • Michael N Downing

    September 22, 2021 at 6:36 am

    All you need to do is go to the 91-divoc.com site and compare Florida data to that of any other state and you will see something is not right. The most probable explanation is someone is playing games with the numbers. Nowhere else does a death peak take 38+ days to follow a case peak. Add to that a death rate twice the rate anywhere else and one suspects the case numbers are under reported, but the deaths are not. I can’t say with certainty someone is lying, but something smells very wrong and should be looked into.

Comments are closed.


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