Rebekah Jones, former Florida COVID-19 data analyst
Jones is a former data manager and web designer who lost her job at the Florida Department of Health and accused state officials of manipulating COVID-19 data to hasten the state’s reopening.
Her job was to regularly update the data dashboard that showed the public the number of cases, hospitalizations, tests, and deaths tied to COVID-19 in Florida.
Jones said in numerous high-profile interviews that her bosses at the health department fired her last year for refusing to fudge the data, which led to questions over whether Florida, under DeSantis’ leadership, was handling the pandemic as well as it appeared.
The Health Department countered that she lost her job because of repeated “insubordination,” including changing Florida’s COVID dashboard without the approval of scientists or her supervisors. Documents obtained by the Associated Press show Jones had several warnings after posting information on social media and conducting media interviews without approval.
“Having someone disruptive cannot be tolerated during this public pandemic, which led the department to determine that it was best to terminate her employment,” the agency said.
Counter to epidemiologists’ suggestions on how to gauge whether a state’s COVID-19 cases are rising or falling, Jones wanted to lump positive COVID-19 results — which show whether someone is actively infected with the virus — with antibody tests, which show past infection. She also opposed the state’s less-stringent criteria for reopening rural areas, even though Florida’s strategy was in line with federal guidelines.
The dispute is far from over and will continue to rack up headlines. Jones went on to create her own Florida dashboard and raised half a million dollars. Now, she’s running to unseat Gaetz.
And in May of this year, the Florida Office of Inspector General gave Jones formal whistleblower status, meaning she could be reinstated to her former job or get compensation if the IG office found that the department fired her because of the concerns she raised.
On top of the data dispute, Jones is facing a felony charge and being accused of downloading information about state employees and illegally accessing a state messaging tool that’s used to coordinate emergency response efforts.
Officials said they traced the access to her
, but Jones denies wrongdoing, and the case hasn’t gone to trial yet.