Florida Health to release detailed COVID-19 data for 3 years as part of settlement
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 11/30/21-Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, asks a question during the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, Tuesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

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That's part of a settlement with Carlos Guillermo Smith and a public records watchdog who sued for the information.

The Department of Health will turn over COVID-19 data collected during the pandemic, ending a two-year public records fight.

The state agency agreed to hand over detailed records to former state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and to The Florida Center for Government Accountability (FLCGA). As part of a settlement agreement, the Health Department will provide infection data collected over more than three years, and will continue to publicly release information for the next three years as well.

That includes data on vaccination counts, case counts and deaths, aggregated weekly, by county, age group, gender and race.

Smith, an Orlando Democrat, called it a vindication of government in the Sunshine and a major political victory over Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration. He said the Health Department should never have withheld the data from the public in the first place.

“They did this at the time when the delta variant was having its way with Florida, during the deadliest part of the pandemic,” he said.

“They repeatedly claimed people should have the freedom to decide how they are going to protect themselves, yet they restricted information from Floridians denying them the opportunity to make informed decisions, and they did it to fit their political narrative and help Ron DeSantis run for President.”

Health officials, for their part, said the data has been reported to the Centers for Disease Control for Years and downplayed the significance of the settlement.

“COVID-19 data has been made available through historical Department reports, and the Department has always reported data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” said Health Department spokesman James Williams. “It is unfortunate that we have continued to waste government resources arguing over the formatting of data with armchair epidemiologists who have zero training or expertise.

“The court did not order the State of Florida to display COVID-19 data. The Department has decided to display data like other diseases that are surveilled (ranging from influenza to stroke to diabetes). COVID-19 data will shift from the previously published Biweekly Reports and now solely be available on Florida CHARTS alongside all other public health data. While some individuals may continue to grapple for political relevancy and disregard providing the public with the truth, we will continue serving Floridians by executing our core mission of protecting, promoting, and improving the health of all people in Florida.”

The state will also cover more than $152,000 in legal bills for plaintiffs forced to sue to obtain the information.

The Department of Health early in the pandemic started publishing detailed testing and hospital data shortly after the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 first surfaced in Florida in March 2020. But the state started to put out fewer details with less frequency as the pandemic continued, including after DeSantis ended a statewide lockdown and announced a reopening of the state.

“All Floridians have a constitutional right to public records and the right to receive critical public health data in a timely manner in order to make informed decisions impacting the health and safety of their families,” said Smith, an Orlando Democrat.

“That’s why I filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health when they refused to comply with my lawful requests for COVID-related public health records in 2021.”

Smith and the watchdog group sued in 2021 for data to be released, as the delta variant sparked a new surge in cases. The plaintiffs argued regional hospitals and health care providers need the information to coordinate response to a public health emergency.

While the state at one point argued the data being requested did not exist in a collectible format, an appellate court ordered the state to put the information together and the state was able to create records for the first three years of pandemic response.

“The Department lied about the existence of these public records in court and did everything to restrict information and downplay the threat of COVID even while the Delta variant ripped through Florida — a decision that cost many lives,” Smith said.

“The DeSantis administration settled in our favor because they knew what they did was wrong. We held them accountable, we required them to be more transparent and to hand over records they claimed didn’t exist, and we protected the public’s constitutional right to know.”

Smith is running for a seat in the Florida Senate.

The FLCGA said the settlement vindicates the argument the organization laid out over the course of litigation.

“The Department hid public records during the height of the pandemic to fit a political narrative that Florida was open for business,” said Michael Barfield, director of Public Access Initiatives at FLCGA. “Transparency and accountability are not negotiable. The Constitution mandates it.”

DeSantis’ administration referred all questions about the settlement to the Health Department

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


8 comments

  • Sonja Fitch

    October 9, 2023 at 1:28 pm

    Just like his hero trump, Desantis will lie! This dude ain’t going to tell the truth! Get out Desantis!

    • Julia

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  • PeterH

    October 9, 2023 at 1:33 pm

    What is appalling here is the relationship between Governor DeSantis and Florida’s attorney general Ashley Moody. Moody’s job IS NOT to protect the Governor or endorse the Governor for President. In a Constitutional Democracy her job is insulated from executive interference! The Attorney General’s job is to protect the residents of Florida!

    Florida residents have two mechanisms to fix this authoritarian regime in Tallahassee, the voting booth or lawsuits.

  • Rick Whitaker

    October 9, 2023 at 3:46 pm

    the more truth comes out, the more glaring desantis’ lies appear. there is still time left before the election for more truth to come out. one thing the maga cult can’t handle is the truth. trump sure can’t handle the truth. maga cultist will believe anything that supports their hate, fear, and ignorance. trump and desantis’ lies found fertile ground with the flaws of the maga supporters. ignorant and fearful people find it hard to admit they are wrong. the anti vaccine idiots were used by the maga cult. too bad many of them died needlessly. i know 2 people that died from covid, both were anti vaxers. keep the law suits coming.

  • Sheeple Grim

    October 9, 2023 at 6:12 pm

    My family member died because he listened to these quacks. Refused to get vaccinated and his Facebook page remains a testimony to the ‘sheeple’ mentality and his tragic death.

    His wife, kids, and grandkids miss him.

    • Rick Whitaker

      October 10, 2023 at 5:49 am

      sorry to hear about your loss. can you sue desantis, i’m sure his family could use the money and desantis needs punished.

  • Covid4u

    October 9, 2023 at 7:31 pm

    Finally the truth on how many people DeathSantis has killed with his antiscience antics. He let Covid rage with stopping wearing masks, encouraging vaccines and protecting Floridians from a vicious public health emergency

    • Rick Whitaker

      October 10, 2023 at 5:53 am

      he placed money and power over people. that’s a maga cult thing. also a christian thing, ask the american natives about that. damm you ron desantis.

Comments are closed.


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