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Inside Florida Republican Governor’s Coverup of State’s Coronavirus Outbreak

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, a fierce supporter of President Donald Trump, tried to coverup Florida’s massive COVID-19 outbreak by firing the creator and overseer of the state’s coronavirus database.

Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

In an interview with The Guardian published on Wednesday, Rebekah Jones recalled how she was fired for refusing orders to manipulate coronavirus data, which included demands to “manually change numbers,” because she (and the data) stood in the way of DeSantis’ aggressive plans to reopen Florida’s battered economy.

“From the beginning there was an organized effort to limit the amount of information the public could have. And that came from all different directions, different motivations, but it ended up in the same result, that people are getting very limited amounts of data and information to make choices,” Jones said.

Remarkably, albeit unsurprisingly, the DeSantis administration did not dispute the validity of the data Jones had amassed. They just did not want the public to know the extend of the problem, and when Jones refused to comply, she was terminated.

“They never actually denied what I was saying. They said I was insubordinate, that I didn’t listen to my superiors, and that was true. They asked me to do something wrong and I didn’t do it,” she said. “If I was insubordinate to say I’m not going to manipulate data to say it’s safe to reopen when it’s not, then yes, I wear insubordination as a badge of honor.”

Things have not improved since her departure, Jones told the Guardian.

“There is currently no plan in place across the state for reporting cases in schools, and I think the reopening of schools embodies everything that was wrong about this whole effort,” she said. “They’re not listening to the scientists, they’ve no plan to release data, to immediately alert staff, parents or students [if there are on-campus cases], they’re just going to let everybody fend for themselves.”

Jones believes that sexism played a major role in the way she was treated by DeSantis – with Vice President Mike Pence by his side – was “extremely stressful.”

Jones explained how DeSantis tried to exploit an affair she had with a student. He even lied about Jones being subject to. criminal charges for cyber sexual harassment, which never happened, The Guardian noted.

“I don’t think that would ever have been an issue if I was a 50-year-old man warning about data manipulation and speaking publicly, which I hadn’t by that point anyway,” she said. “I know the way I look, the fact I’m a young female scientist, is what drove that. He said I wasn’t a scientist, that I wouldn’t know how to even look at the data. All the things he was saying were wrong, but he said it with such hatred and anger that, honest to God, I just don’t know where it came from.”

Jones continued her disturbing account of DeSantis’ ultimately deadly behavior.

“The fact [DeSantis] was that angry was scary, honestly, upsetting and disturbing. Having not said a word to the press, having told everyone who contacted me I don’t want to be part of the story, and two days later a man I’ve never been introduced to is speaking about me like somebody he personally knows and hates.”

Jones believes that Americans’ hostility toward science, particularly within right-wing circles, is the primary driver of the abuse she had to endure.

“I’ve worked in climate science and the challenges of public communication that come with that,” she said. “Nobody was ever going to trust us, because we’re the people that do data and modeling, they just say we’re alarmist.”

Medical professionals also lied about extent of the outbreak on behalf of DeSantis and Trump.

“But I also always assumed that doctors and nurses are honest people who know what they’re talking about when it comes to medicine, the people you would listen to. The silencing of those people caught me off guard,” Jones said. “DeSantis’s press secretary posted an article that said we’d be at, like, 4,000 deaths by 1 August and said it was ridiculous, yet here we are past 7,000. So that’s kind of the mentality towards that. When a doctor says hospitals are full and we’re not taking enough action, it means hospitals are full and we’re not taking action. It’s not a point for a political fight.”

Since her departure, Jones has “set up a rival coronavirus information portal featuring more detail than the state database; filed a whistleblower complaint alleging the Republican governor and Florida department of health habitually lied about the Covid-19 figures; and on Monday launched her latest venture, a state and national reporting database for teachers, parents and students worried about schools reopening safely,” The Guardian explained.

As of Wednesday morning, Florida has reported 542,000 positive cases and nearly 8,600 deaths.



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