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Florida Scientist Suspended for Manipulating COVID-19 Data

The scientist who developed the data portal COVID-19 in Florida was not only suspended from her job on May 5, she was fired by the Department of Health on Monday for refusing to manipulate data, she said. In an email to the USA TODAY Network, Rebekah Jones said that she made 2 single-handed applications in two languages, four dashboards, 6 different maps with data functionality layers for 32 variables covering half a million data lines. The goal was to establish a way for Floridians and researchers to see in real-time what was the COVID-19 situation. Then, she was thrown out.

After USA TODAY Network first announces the removal of Jones from her role in charge of the Florida COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard that she develops, she states, as announce by CBS-12 in West Palm Beach, that she fires because she orders to censor some data, but declines to “adjust data manually to drum up support for the effort to reopen.”

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

Researchers who had seen the email reacted with shock and horror, suggesting this could be evidence that information was being censored by the government of Gov. Ron De Santis to support the reopening of Florida cases.

Jones Worked with the Department of Health

But emails from Jones through April demonstrates Jones who respond to researchers’ feedback in a bid to improve and update her product. Jones told the USA TODAY Network she was alone in charge of “every line of code.”

Jones said she never took a day off for 60 days, not even when a strong April 12 tornado. It is from Easter lifts the home of her parents in Southeast Mississippi. A GoFundMe account develops to help her family recover. Fortunately, her mother has survived. At the time her father was a truck driver in Texas.

Every few days Jones provided detailed e-mail updates, often technical and always flexible to user feedback. She dismisses working to make historical data more user-accessible. On April 25, Jones provided an explanation as to why the set of data would be going. It is from daily updates morning and evening to just once a day.

Days later she removes entirely from the position. Her data users sound the alarm that science might be censoring by the government. Since receiving her PhD in Geography from Florida State University in 2018, Jones had worked with the Department of Health. It is as a geospatial analyst and later as a Geographic Information System ( GIS) manager. She holds a master’s degree in geography and mass media. It is from Louisiana State University and a bachelor’s degree in journalism and geography from the University of Syracuse. The Health Department has not replied to a request for comment so far.

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