Current Policies on Masks

Article by the Wolf

From the Florida Department of Emergency Management, current as of 6/22/20.

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CountyOrange20-JunPeople in public not eating or drinking must wear masks
CitySt. Petersburg19-JunEmployees in all businesses required to wear masks
CityTampa19-JunMandatory mask at all indoor locations where 6 foot social distancing can not be maintained
CountyMartin19-JunRequired for eployees of restaurants, grocer stores and food serivce establishments
CountyMonroe17-JunOwner, manager, employee, customer or patron of a business establishment must wear a face covering while in that business establishment
CountyBrevard18-May“Facemasks encouraged”
CityBoca Raton18-MayFace mask order
CountyGadsden15-MayRescended order to wear masks
CityCoral Springs6-May“Face mask requirement”
CityKey West4-MayBusinesses must wear face coverings
CitySatellite Beach4-MayStaff required to wear masks
CountyAlachua2-MayMasks required where social distancing is not possible

June 21: Increases in cases across age groups

Article written by both the Wolf and the Badger

The median age of every person living in Florida is 42. The median age of all DOH cases to date is 44. And the median age of all new cases in June is also 44. Ron DeSantis has been using trends in young people getting tested to diminish the increased activity of COVID-19 across the state. Here’s why that’s not only misleading, but dangerous.

When surveillance and testing started in January, the limited supply of COVID-19 test kits available were restricted to persons older than 65, those who had traveled to China (none of whom tested positive until March 27), and those with known contact to a confirmed case.

As more people gained access to testing in the following months, the median age of those tested obviously went down.

Today, as people are forced to either go back to work or lose their unemployment benefits, young people are being exposed and tested more frequently. Though it should be noted that the details and data regarding current testing activity and antibody data are extremely limited.

For example, in Leon county, there’s only one location that provides antibody testing without a referral, and it requires a full blood donation to do so. The lack of clarity about where to get tested, and DOH’s refusal to provide information about testing sites has limited the amount of information that reaches the public.

By the way, you can find all testing locations on both the Florida COVID Action dashboard and the URISA GISCorps page.

The idea they’re pushing is that since cases in younger people are increasing, the eventual burden on our healthcare system should be less severe, ignoring the proportional increase in all other age groups (see above chart).

However, 10% (about 3,000 people) of those testing positive in the last three weeks who are under age 60 have already been admitted to an Emergency Room — and ER data is often reported to DOH up to 40 days after the initial admission, meaning those are the preliminary and incomplete figures. In that same vein (pun intended), 1,200 have been admitted as in-patients to a hospital that DOH knows about (and there are many, many more they won’t find out about until July or August).

Death data is received by DOH weeks and sometimes even months after the date a person actually died. Still, 32 people under 60 have already been verified to have died who were diagnosed in the last three weeks.

And it may be hard for some to remember, but regardless of their age, race, gender, professional or political affiliation, these cases are people. The death numbers represent real people. And just because a person is under 80 doesn’t mean that COVID-19 isn’t a painful and heartbreaking experience for those who die and their loved ones.

To give you an idea, here is the medical examiner’s comments on just a few of those who died.

Male, 31, Alachua County:

“According to the decedent’s wife, the decedent had a dry cough for several weeks and spiked a fever on 4/17. On 4/18, his temperature rose to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. On 4/19, the decedent’s temperature increased and he presented to Mercy Medical Urgent Care in Lake City. He was discharged from Mercy Medical Urgent Care with an ear infection and was told that he was not a likely candidate for the COVID-19 virus. According to medical records, on 4/20 the decedent began having trouble breathing and presented to Lake City Medical Center. On the same day, he was transferred to North Florida Regional Medical Center for a higher level of care and tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. According to medical records, the decedent was transferred to the ICU due to hypoxia and was found to have severe respiratory failure. He was pronounced dead on 4/25.”

Male, Age 57, Seminole County:

“Admitted on March 29, 2020 for hypotension and shortness of breath. Found to have fever in ER and pneumonia on CXR. Admitted for same. Developed worsening hypoxia requiring intubation and ventilation. COVID testing POSITIVE on 04/06/2020. Later tested negative, but never improved and never recovered. Died in hospital on 05/06/2020.”

Female, 36, Orange County

“The decedent was admitted on 4/23 with shortness of breath. She tested positive COVID-19 on 4/24, was intubated, and placed on ECMO. Her symptoms worsened and she passed away on 5/2.

Male, 27, Leon County

“He presented to Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare ER for ~1 week history of cough and shortness of breath. He reportedly had been in contact with his mother in South Florida who was COVID-19 positive. A chest x-ray was suggestive for pneumonia. In the ER he went into acute respiratory arrest and was eventually pronounced dead on April 16. The swabs eventually came back COVID-19 positive.”

Female, 38, Broward County

The decedent presented to the ER from home via Fire Rescue on 03/15/2020 with complaints of shortness of breath. She was admitted and diagnosed with pneumonia. She began to have severe respiratory distress on 03/16/2020 and was tested for COVID-19 which later came back positive. She was then intubated and moved to the ICU. The decedent continued to decline and was pronounced deceased on 04/01/2020.”

And as to DeSantis’ blatantly racist claim that Hispanic laborers are to blame for the rise?

On June 1, persons identifying as Hispanic made up 35% of cases. On June 21, they made up 35% of cases. That’s a 0% change.

WMFE: June 18, 2020

To view the full article on WMFE’s website, click here.

Rebekah Jones, the former Florida Department of Health data scientist who built her own COVID-19 dashboard, said she will keep the independent website up and running as long as she can afford to.

In late May, Jones said she was fired after she refused to manipulate data in the state’s dashboard to make the case for reopening Florida’s economy. Then, Jones raised more than $170,000 on GoFundMe to launch her own COVID-19 data dashboard.

Jones spoke with WMFE’s Matthew Peddie on Intersection. She said she’s been talking with other state health departments about using data to decide where to distribute a vaccine when it becomes available.

“We know we’re initially going to have a limited supply, and we need to maximize the effectiveness,” Jones said. “So how many vaccines to send and where to create the biggest impact in preventing the spread. So I’ve been in discussions with other states as well.”

Check here to visit Rebekah Jone’s COVID-19 dashboard. A spokesperson for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Jones “exhibited a repeated course of insubordination during her time with the department.”

Jones said she was fired after she refused to manipulate data in the state’s dashboard to make the case for reopening Florida’s economy. She said her supervisors didn’t like a tool she built in the state’s dashboard that drew attention to the fact that the vast majority of Florida counties didn’t meet the state’s own criteria to continue reopening.

“The thing I put my foot down on was going into the actual data and changing numbers so that those counties, mostly rural counties, would meet the criteria to reopen when they didn’t,” Jones said.

Jones said the decisions being made by state officials are not supported by the state’s own data.

“We need to be able to trust the Department of Health, we need to be able to trust our officials who are giving this data to us and saying they are using it to make decisions,” Jones said. “For now, the data still shows that the decisions being made are not supported by the science. So that would lead me to think the data itself is still trustworthy.”

WKMG-TV (CBS-Orlando Channel 6): June 18

To view the full article at, click here.

ORLANDO, Fla. – The accuracy of Florida’s coronavirus data on the state’s dashboard is back in the national spotlight.

Weeks after former Florida Department of Health scientist Rebekah Jones was ousted, she launched her own coronavirus dashboard to renew the public’s trust in data.

“I rebuilt this new one, really the frame of it in a day, much like I did the last time,” Jones said.

Her website looks strikingly similar to the state’s is not a coincidence.

“The difference is that mine is much more transparent and it’s a lot more detailed,” Jones said.

The DOH website she said she curated was touted by the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx as a model of transparency.’ However, Jones claims the career-boosting recognition wasn’t enough.

“I always wanted to add things like nursing home cases, hospitalizations, ICU beds, pediatric cases, prison cases all of that information to my first dashboard, I was not able to I was told no,” Jones said.

Through this virtual interview, there is no mistaking her view of what she claims happened before her abrupt departure from DOH. A few weeks later the world moved on. The world, that is, except Jones.

“I got kind of depressed after that, after having lost my job that I cared a lot about that I put a lot into,” Jones said.

Florida officials released a statement on the Rebekah Jones firing.
Florida officials released a statement on the Rebekah Jones firing. (WKMG)

In response to Jones’ termination in a statement to News 6 the state said:

“Rebekah Jones exhibited a repeated course of insubordination during her time with the Department, including her unilateral decisions to modify the Department’s COVID-19 dashboard without input or approval.”

In her interview with News 6 Jones said mounting tension with higher-ups came after she pushed back and refused to put aside her scientific integrity over public pressure.

In a statement to News 6 DOH claims its Jones’ dashboard that is unreliable:

“The Rebekah Jones’ Dashboard sources much of its data directly from the Department’s Dashboard. The remainder is either self-reported or derived from unofficial sources.”



The 30-year-old said the fallout has left little doubt data transparency will ever be resolved. Meantime she said her comprehensive dashboard attracts millions of views and operates through GoFundMe donations. Jones has also secured legal counsel to navigate the controversy.

Public Release: June 16, 2020

This article was written by the Wolf.


For questions about this release, please email

Key points:

  1. DOH data is usually updated through their PDF reports and public API’s by noon each day. Some of our data is automatically updated, and others we back up and verify before publishing. Our dashboard is fully updated by 2:00 PM ET daily.
  2. DOH is still refusing to release the underlying data regarding antibody testing and PCR testing.
  3.  DOH has made false and defamatory statements about the Florida COVID Action dashboard.

The Florida Department of Health walked back previous statements about antibody and case data today, stating there “might” be overlap between persons who receive antibody testing and those who “may subsequently” receive molecular testing.

From a DOH spokesperson, “In many cases, individuals who test positive for antibodies are subsequently given a diagnostic test to confirm that they are in fact COVID-19 positive. The RJ Dashboard fails to account for individuals who have received both tests. This results in the double-counting of many cases and an artificially elevated total case count.”

DOH did not offer figures on how many of those cases overlap or even a ball-park range or percent of overlap. Florida COVID Action is committed to presenting the most accurate data available to the public, and would be willing to work with DOH to resolve these issues. Unfortunately, DOH has not responded to multiple inquiries regarding these alleged discrepancies.

Additionally, DOH falsely claimed the Florida COVID Action dashboard uses “unauthoritative” data.  All data for FCA is copied directly from the PDF reports that DOH publishes on its own website every day. The hospital data is the direct data from the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), which is the state’s authoritative source for hospital information. There is no data on the dashboard about cases, deaths, hospitalizations, or testing results that does not come directly from DOH itself. This statement is not only false, it is defamatory, and we are asking for a full and immediate retraction.   

CBS-Miami/CNN: June 15

To view the full article and video, please click here.

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/CNN) – The woman who helped create Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard, and who was fired after a dispute with state officials, has launched her own dashboard.

Rebekah Jones was removed from the state’s scrutinized dashboard project after she questioned other officials’ commitment to accessibility and transparency, according to Florida Today.ADVERTISING

Jones accused her supervisors of trying to hide information on the department’s dashboard to paint a rosier picture.

Last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis contested Jones’ claims. The Florida Department of Health (DOH) said she had “exhibited a repeated course of insubordination” during her tenure there.

Jones’s website “is paid for entirely by donations,” the fundraising portion of the site says.

“Florida deserves a community-based dashboard that doesn’t hide or fudge numbers,” according to the page.

Jones’ dashboard looks very similar to DOH website.

However, Jones parallels her data alongside DOH’s coronavirus numbers, which are much lower, according to the website.

“DOH publishes total cases, not positive people,” the website says. “Additionally, cases are not currently created for those who receive positive antibody test results, and so DOH excludes them from that total. We show the total number of people who have definitive lab results showing they have or have had COVID-19 regardless of the type of test.”

The new dashboard also shows report cards on where each county stands on reopening.

The community dashboard reported 83,270 positive cases with 3,022 deaths since March 1 while the state dashboard reported 75,568 total positives and 2,931 deaths as of Monday morning. Both dashboards include data for residents and non-residents of Florida.

TIME: June 15, 2020

Click here to see the full article at


JUNE 15, 2020 7:17 PM EDT

AFlorida government data scientist who was previously managing the state’s coronavirus information dashboard before being fired last month, has created her own COVID-19 tracking website. She claims her site provides data Florida’s Department of Health (DOH) has “tried to hide or restrict from public view,” partly in an effort to speed up the state’s economic reopening.

Rebekah Jones says she built a tracker based on publicly available data, which claims to capture thousands more “COVID Positive People” (by including antibody tests in the cumulative total) and dozens more deaths. She told TIME she is taking information that exists in the state’s databases, but not on its main coronavirus dashboard, and attempting to make it easily available to citizens. Launched last week, Jones portal provides information on the state’s testing availability, community resources, individualized report cards for counties and hospital data.

The state’s dashboard currently provides a narrower view of coronavirus-related data. It has a breakdown of COVID-19 cases by county, which includes gender, ethnicity and age. It notes progress on some re-opening criteria but stops short of explicitly saying whether a county has met the state’s targets for the next phase of re-opening, unlike Jones’ dashboard. The state’s dashboard does not currently show the detailed hospital data Jones’ provides, nor does it include information about how and where to get tested.

Previously the geographic information systems manager at Florida’s DOH, Jones claims she was fired for refusing to manipulate coronavirus data by manually changing it to justify reopening the state’s economy and for speaking out against hiding data from the public. State officials dispute her account.

Gov. Ron De Santis said last month that Jones was “dismissed” because “she didn’t listen to the people who were her superiors.”

“What she was doing was she was putting data on the portal which the scientists didn’t believe was valid data,” he said about Jones.ADVERTISINGAds by Teads

The governor’s spokesperson Helen Aguirre Ferré also reportedly said in a statement last month that Jones “exhibited a repeated course of insubordination during her time with the department, including her unilateral decisions to modify the department’s COVID-19 dashboard without input or approval from the epidemiological team or her supervisors.”

After being fired, Jones tells TIME in an interview she didn’t intend to “be a whistleblower,”— only to voice her concerns about the transparency and accuracy of the state’s data.

“I think I was really down for a few days and felt like, my God I’m not making a difference. I have all this knowledge. I have this skillset,” Jones said. “Then I kind of thought —almost in jest — what if I built my own dashboard?”

“It’s a pandemic; it’s a public health crisis and access to whatever data we have is critical to understand what has happened and from that model what might happen,” Jones says.

She said she still relied on state data for her website but claims she “showed it in its proper context.” Jones breaks down deaths and hospitalizations by age group for residents and non-residents. The state does provide a count of how many nonresidents tested positive on a county, but doesn’t provide information on how many nonresidents died. She also includes and distinguishes antibody testing, which indicates whether people have previously been infected by the coronavirus, while the state’s dashboard does not. Jones also includes hospital data, noting active bed counts, capacity and ICU/isolation availability. Jones says she suggested some of these ideas while she was employed by Florida’s Department of Health but they were not approved.

Additionally, her coronavirus dashboard includes community resources, like food delivery or elder care, as well as detailed information on where to find COVID-19 testing. The state’s coronavirus dashboard does neither.

“The department’s goal has always been to provide accurate, confirmed information regarding COVID-19 in Florida in as expeditious a manner as is possible,” Alberto Moscoso, the director of communications for Florida’s DOH, said in a statement to TIME. “We will continue to employ only official sources of information, ensuring that our online resources are the most factual and up-to-date available.”

Moscoso defended the state’s decision not to include antibody tests in their cumulative total, noting that they “are not typically used or considered effective for diagnosing cases of COVID-19” and could potentially lead to “double-counting.” Moscoso also said that DOH handles deaths of nonresidents by contacting public health authorities from the individual’s state or country of residence to ensure that the proper authorities are aware of and tracking the case.” Doing so helps ensure deaths are not double-counted across states when analyzing data on a national or international scale, they said.

Other states offer some of the information included in Jones’ dashboard, although they vary. Arizona’s coronavirus dashboard, for example, includes data about hospital bed usage and availability, as well as antibody tests, although it does not include detailed information about how and where to get tested and seek other community resources. New York State’s COVID-19 tracker provides a county-by-county look and notes the total number of positive COVID-19 cases and breaks them down by gender, but does not distinguish information about antibody tests and it is unclear if they are included in the total count. New York does also includes a separate regional “dashboard” that tracks hospital capacity and testing and tracing targets for the next phase of re-opening.

Additionally, Jones’ dashboard also has a “report card for each county to measure readiness to enter the next phase of reopening” based on the state and DOH’s criteria. Jones alleges that while an employee, she was asked to fudge data to suggest counties had met targets for reopening, even if they hadn’t. No such scorecard is part of the state’s coronavirus dashboard, although it does note some data points used to evaluate each county’s readiness to move forward in the re-opening process.

Jones’ concerns about Florida’s data transparency come at a time when the state is re-opening, even as it reports recent spikes in coronavirus cases. Just over 2,000 confirmed cases were reported on Sunday alone, marking the second-highest single day total for the state’s new cases and a daily record of 2,581 was set on Saturday. Florida’s Department of Health has so far reported 77,326 COVID-19 cases and 2,938 deaths.

Asked how she reconciles Florida’s move to continue re-opening despite the surges in coronavirus cases, Jones says, “I don’t think we were ever going to take a data and science driven approach.” She claims “the plan (to re-open) was already made. It was just about molding the data into something that was supporting it.”

To continue building out and maintaining the online portal that she created, Jones organized a GoFundMe that has so far raised more than $154,000. The funds are intended to cover costs for her labor, software and hardware, according to the fundraiser description.

Jones tells TIME she is confident that there are other scientists and epidemiologists in the state government who want data reported transparently and may face obstacles from leadership.

“I really hope they feel empowered by this — knowing that if they choose to come forward or if they choose to do the right thing, people will be there for them,” she said. “They will not be alone.”

AP: Public health officials are facing political pressure, threats and armed protests as states push to reopen

View the original article here.


  • As the pressure and scrutiny rise around the response to the coronavirus, many more health officials have chosen to leave or have been pushed out of their jobs.
  • From the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, federal public health officials have complained of being sidelined or politicized.
  • Many local health leaders, accustomed to relative anonymity as they work to protect the public’s health, have been shocked by growing threats to them because of their position.

Emily Brown was stretched thin.

As the director of the Rio Grande County Public Health Department in rural Colorado, she was working 12- and 14-hour days, struggling to respond to the pandemic with only five full-time employees for more than 11,000 residents. Case counts were rising.

She was already at odds with county commissioners, who were pushing to loosen public health restrictions in late May, against her advice. She had previously clashed with them over data releases and control and had haggled over a variance regarding reopening businesses.

But she reasoned that standing up for public health principles was worth it, even if she risked losing the job that allowed her to live close to her hometown and help her parents with their farm.

The commissioners had asked her to meet with them the next day. She intended to ask them for more support. Instead, she was fired.

“They finally were tired of me not going along the line they wanted me to go along,” she said.

In the battle against COVID-19, public health workers spread across states, cities and small towns make up an invisible army on the front lines. But that army, which has suffered neglect for decades, is under assault when it’s needed most.

Officials who usually work behind the scenes managing tasks like immunizations and water quality inspections have found themselves center stage. Elected officials and members of the public who are frustrated with the lockdowns and safety restrictions have at times turned public health workers into politicized punching bags, battering them with countless angry calls and even physical threats.

On Thursday, Ohio’s state health director, who had armed protesters come to her house, resigned. The health officer for Orange County, California, quit Monday after weeks of criticism and personal threats from residents and other public officials over an order requiring face coverings in public.

As the pressure and scrutiny rise, many more health officials have chosen to leave or have been pushed out of their jobs. A review by Kaiser Health News and The Associated Press finds at least 27 state and local health leaders have resigned, retired or been fired since April across 13 states.

From North Carolina to California, they have left their posts because of a mix of backlash and stressful, nonstop work, all while dealing with chronic staffing and funding shortages.

Some health officials have not been up to the job during the biggest health crisis in a century. Others previously had plans to leave or cited their own health issues.

But Lori Tremmel Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, said the majority of what she calls an “alarming” exodus resulted from increasing pressure as states reopen. Three of those 27 were members of her board and well known in the public health community — Rio Grande County’s Brown; Detroit’s senior public health adviser, Dr. Kanzoni Asabigi; and the head of North Carolina’s Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services, Chris Dobbins.

Asabigi’s sudden retirement, considering his stature in the public health community, shocked Freeman. She also was upset to hear about the departure of Dobbins, who was chosen as health director of the year for North Carolina in 2017. Asabigi and Dobbins did not reply to requests for comment.

“They just don’t leave like that,” Freeman said.

Public health officials are “really getting tired of the ongoing pressures and the blame game,” Freeman said. She warned that more departures could be expected in the coming days and weeks as political pressure trickles down from the federal to the state to the local level.

From the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, federal public health officials have complained of being sidelined or politicized. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been marginalized; a government whistleblower said he faced retaliation because he opposed a White House directive to allow widespread access to the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment.

In Hawaii, Democratic congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard called on the governor to fire his top public health officials, saying she believed they were too slow on testing, contact tracing and travel restrictions. In Wisconsin, several Republican lawmakers have repeatedly demanded that the state’s health services secretary resign, and the state’s conservative Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that she had exceeded her authority by extending a stay-at-home order.

With the increased public scrutiny, security details — like those seen on a federal level for Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious-disease expert — have been assigned to top state health officials, including Georgia’s Dr. Kathleen Toomey after she was threatened. Ohio’s Dr. Amy Acton, who also had a security detail assigned after armed protesters showed up at her home, resigned Thursday.

In Orange County, in late May, nearly 100 people attended a county supervisors meeting, waiting hours to speak against an order requiring face coverings. One person suggested that the order might make it necessary to invoke Second Amendment rights to bear arms, while another read aloud the home address of the order’s author, the county’s chief health officer, Dr. Nichole Quick, as well as the name of her boyfriend.

Quick, attending by phone, left the meeting. In a statement, the sheriff’s office later said Quick had expressed concern for her safety following “several threatening statements both in public comment and online.” She was given personal protection by the sheriff.

But Monday, after yet another public meeting that included criticism from members of the board of supervisors, Quick resigned. She could not be reached for comment. Earlier, the county’s deputy director of public health services, David Souleles, retired abruptly.

An official in another California county also has been given a security detail, said Kat DeBurgh, the executive director of the Health Officers Association of California, declining to name the county or official because the threats have not been made public.

Many local health leaders, accustomed to relative anonymity as they work to protect the public’s health, have been shocked by the growing threats, said Theresa Anselmo, the executive director of the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials.

After polling local health directors across the state at a meeting last month, Anselmo found about 80% said they or their personal property had been threatened since the pandemic began. About 80% also said they’d encountered threats to pull funding from their department or other forms of political pressure.

To Anselmo, the ugly politics and threats are a result of the politicization of the pandemic from the start. So far in Colorado, six top local health officials have retired, resigned or been fired. A handful of state and local health department staff members have left as well, she said.

“It’s just appalling that in this country that spends as much as we do on health care that we’re facing these really difficult ethical dilemmas: Do I stay in my job and risk threats, or do I leave because it’s not worth it?” Anselmo asked.

In California, senior health officials from seven counties, including Quick and Souleles, have resigned or retired since March 15. Dr. Charity Dean, the second in command at the state Department of Public Health, submitted her resignation June 4. Burnout seems to be contributing to many of those decisions, DeBurgh said.

In addition to the harm to current officers, DeBurgh is worried about the impact these events will have on recruiting people into public health leadership.

“It’s disheartening to see people who disagree with the order go from attacking the order to attacking the officer to questioning their motivation, expertise and patriotism,” said DeBurgh. “That’s not something that should ever happen.”

Some of the online abuse has been going on for years, said Bill Snook, a spokesperson for the health department in Kansas City, Missouri. He has seen instances in which people took a health inspector’s name and made a meme out of it, or said a health worker should be strung up or killed. He said opponents of vaccinations, known as anti-vaxxers, have called staffers “baby killers.”

The pandemic, though, has brought such behavior to another level.

In Ohio, the Delaware General Health District has had two lockdowns since the pandemic began — one after an angry individual came to the health department. Fortunately, the doors were locked, said Dustin Kent, program manager for the department’s residential services unit.

Angry calls over contact tracing continue to pour in, Kent said.

In Colorado, the Tri-County Health Department, which serves Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties near Denver, has also been getting hundreds of calls and emails from frustrated citizens, deputy director Jennifer Ludwig said.

Some have been angry their businesses could not open and blamed the health department for depriving them of their livelihood. Others were furious with neighbors who were not wearing masks outside. It’s a constant wave of “confusion and angst and anxiety and anger,” she said.

Then in April and May, rocks were thrown at one of their office’s windows — three separate times. The office was tagged with obscene graffiti. The department also received an email calling members of the department “tyrants,” adding “you’re about to start a hot-shooting … civil war.” Health department workers decamped to another office.

Although the police determined there was no imminent threat, Ludwig stressed how proud she was of her staff, who weathered the pressure while working round-the-clock.

“It does wear on you, but at the same time, we know what we need to do to keep moving to keep our community safe,” she said. “Despite the complaints, the grievances, the threats, the vandalism — the staff have really excelled and stood up.”

The threats didn’t end there, however: Someone asked on the health department’s Facebook page how many people would like to know the home addresses of the Tri-County Health Department leadership. “You want to make this a war??? No problem,” the poster wrote.

Back in Colorado’s Rio Grande County, some members of the community have rallied in support of Brown with public comments and a letter to the editor of a local paper. Meanwhile, COVID-19 case counts have jumped from 14 to 49 as of Wednesday.

Brown is grappling with what she should do next: Dive back into another strenuous public health job in a pandemic or take a moment to recoup?

When she told her 6-year-old son she no longer had a job, he responded: “Good, now you can spend more time with us.”

WFSU-NPR: June 14

To read/listen to the full article at, click here.

Updated June 17 at 11:50 a.m. ET

Rebekah Jones was fired last month from her job at the Florida Department of Health, where she helped create a data portal about the state’s COVID-19 cases. Now, she has created a dashboard of her own.

In some ways, Jones’ new portal for Florida coronavirus data looks a lot like the state health department’s. But it has a few key differences that reflect just how contentious coronavirus data has become amid politicized arguments about whether it’s safe for states to reopen.

Case in point: Jones’ dashboard has a map that shows which Florida counties are ready for the next phase of reopening.By her calculations, only two of the state’s 67 counties at the moment meet the state’s criteria forfurthereasing restrictions.

Jones says she was originally tasked with building essentially the same type of dashboard for the health department’s website in her role as a geographic information system manager — until it became clear what the results would show.

“When I went to show them what the report card would say for each county, among other things, they asked me to delete the report card because it showed that no counties, pretty much, were ready for reopening,” she says. “And they didn’t want to draw attention to that.”

Jones says a superior asked her to open up the data and alter the numbers so that the state’s coronavirus positivity rating would change from 18% to 10% — and the state would appear to meet its target to reopen.Article continues after sponsor message

She says she refused to do that manipulation and others she was asked to, and she was fired on May 18.

“To me, it did not read like some kind of political conspiracy or some higher directive,” Jones says. “It seemed like people who expected when I brought in those results, the results to support the plan they had written, and they did not, they seemed panicked, and like they had to figure out a way to make the results match the plan.”

Florida entered Phase 1 of its reopening on May 4, in all counties except Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. It eased restrictions even further with the start of Phase 2 on June 5 but is now among the more than 20 states where new daily cases are rising. As of Sunday, the state has had more than 73,000 cases and nearly 3,000 deaths.

Tracking The Pandemic: Are Coronavirus Cases Rising Or Falling In Your State?

Jones and her attorney are now looking into whether she might be protected by a whistleblower law. Jones says she had asked at work how to file a whistleblower complaint and was fired the next day.

A spokesperson for Florida Gov. Ron De Santis said last month that Jones “exhibited a repeated course of insubordination during her time with the department.”

Now a private citizen, Jones continues to take issue with the way the state is calculating its coronavirus positivity rate. The official Florida site says there are more than 1.3 million “total people tested” in Florida, of which about 73,500 were positive, resulting in an “overall percent positive” rate of 5.4%.

But Jones says that figure is misleading.

“I actually wrote the script to create that data, so I know exactly what it looks like,” she says, adding that she’s audited it and checked it with several other statisticians to make sure it’s correct.

She says that on the state’s dashboard, any person who tests positive will be counted as a positive test only once, no matter how many times they test positive. But a person who tests negative will be counted over and over again each time they test negative for the coronavirus.

Jones says that because many residents, such as health care workers, require repeated testing, the state’s dashboard is artificially deflating the true positivity rate.

“They’re adding their total test figures instead of their total people, which makes their percent positive extremely low,” she says.

But the Florida Department of Health says it’s Jones’ dashboard that is using unreliable data.

Alberto Moscoso, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Health, said in a statement to NPR that Jones’ dashboard “aggregates disparate sets of data without considering many of the important guidelines utilized by epidemiologists to arrive at their conclusions.”

The DOH dashboard gets its data from official sources, Moscoco said, including the statewide Merlin and Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community-based Epidemics (ESSENCE) tools, as well as official reports from partner state and federal agencies.

Jones and the health department use much of the same underlying state and county data for case numbers and details. But some of the data on Jones’ dashboard, Moscoso says, “is either self-reported or derived from unofficial sources.”

“The Department’s goal has always been to provide accurate, confirmed information regarding COVID-19 in Florida in as expeditious a manner as is possible. We will continue to employ only official sources of information, ensuring that our online resources are the most factual and up-to-date available,” he says.

The health department did not explain how it calculates its “total people tested” figure.

Cindy Prins, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida, finds Jones’ dashboard to be more comprehensive than the state’s.

“There’s some data on there that either wasn’t on the Florida COVID-19 DOH dashboard or was available and maybe wasn’t presented in the same way that it’s being presented now … You’re just getting a bigger picture of what’s going on,” Prins says.

She also notes that the state’s site doesn’t appear to use the “total people tested” label accurately.

“From a definition standpoint, ‘total people tested’ and what it actually represents is ‘total number of tests conducted.’ Those are two different measures,” says Prins, explaining that she has been tested — but if she were tested again, she shouldn’t be counted as a separate person. She’s just a person who has been tested twice.

“There’s a distinction there between total number of people tested versus total number of tests carried out.”

The state has faced other questions over its handling of coronavirus data. The Miami Herald reported last week that Florida refused for weeks to release data on COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, even as many other states did so.

“[The state health department]’s public data are incomplete, sometimes changed without explanation, and have had information removed following questions from reporters,” the Herald reports.

Prins says the public interest in COVID-19 data is an indication that amid the ongoing pandemic, many people are interested in seeing the numbers for themselves.

They get a visual of what’s going on from both dashboards, she says: They can see the numbers and what’s happening in their own county. “I do think that people have found some value in that where before, they might not have really looked to that sort of source.”

Natalie Dean is a professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida and a member of the advisory board of the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer data collection effort launched by The Atlantic. She says it’s useful that Jones’ dashboard connects people directly to information about testing and health care, and does”not just show them the data, but to help people make decisions.”

And Dean says it’s valuable that Jones makes it easy to export the data she’s using. “A lot of people are making their own models,” she says. “As someone who does this, it’s really helpful to make that data more accessible.”

With Jones now out of a job, her site is relying on GoFundMe donations to stay running. Her goal is to give people a place with information they can trust and find help if they need it.

“I think I’m uniquely equipped to try to help with that,” she says, “so that’s what I’m doing. I just don’t want people to panic. I don’t want anybody to feel afraid or powerless.”

Washington Post: June 13, 2020

See this article on the Washington Post website here.

By Marisa Iati June 12, 2020 at 9:42 p.m. EDT

Tension built for days between Florida Department of Health supervisors and the department’s geographic information systems manager before officials showed her the door, she says, permanently pulling her off the coronavirus dashboard that she operated for weeks.

Managers had wanted Rebekah Jones to make certain changes to the public-facing portal, she says. Jones had objected to — and sometimes refused to comply with — what she saw as unethical requests. She says the department offered to let her resign. Jones declined.

Weeks after she was fired in mid-May, Jones has now found a way to present the state’s coronavirus data exactly the way she wants it: She created a dashboard of her own.

“I wanted to build an application that delivered data and helped people get tested and helped them get resources that they need from their community,” Jones, 30, said of the site that launched Thursday. “And that’s what I ended up building with this new dashboard.”ADADVERTISING

White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx praised Florida’s official coronavirus dashboard in April as a beacon of transparency. But Jones has asserted that the site undercounts the state’s infection total and overcounts the number of people tested — with the official numbers bolstering the decision to start loosening restrictions on the economy in early May, when the state had not met federal guidelines for reopening.

Demonstrators on May 11 protested the mandated closure of all Florida gyms by doing push-ups and squats outside the Pinellas County Courthouse in Tampa. (Jozef Gherman)

The competing opinions about how to frame Florida’s data underscore the importance of access to accurate information about the virus’s spread as the state continues to lift restrictions on public life. Among other data-related controversies, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) came under heavy scrutiny after Jones first alleged publicly that the health department was manipulating statistics to support his desire to reopen.

The Florida governor’s office and the health department did not respond Friday to an email seeking comment on Jones’s new dashboard. In a previous statement, a spokeswoman for the governor said Jones “exhibited a repeated course of insubordination during her time with the Department, including her unilateral decisions to modify the Department’s COVID-19 dashboard without input or approval from the epidemiological team or her supervisors.”AD

More than 100,000 Americans have died. This is how they lived and what was lost.

Jones’s allegations about other managers’ requests are serious. She claimed they asked her to delete data showing that some residents tested positive for the coronavirus in January, even though DeSantis assured residents in March that there was no evidence of community spread. Jones also alleged that she was asked to manually change numbers to wrongly make counties appear to have met metrics for reopening.

Despite the differences between the two dashboards, the site that Jones launched Thursday relies on the health department’s data. She said she wrote code that pulls information from various reports on the department’s website and presents the data in a way that she believes adds more context. Her dashboard also incorporates data from hospitals and from a volunteer organization that maps coronavirus testing sites.Why covid-19 isn’t going away anytime soon

On Jones’s dashboard, the number of people tested is significantly lower than the official figure. She said the state’s number is actually a tally of the number of samples taken — not the number of people tested. Her dashboard said Florida had tested 895,947 people as of Friday evening, whereas the state dashboard listed the number of people tested as more than 1.3 million.AD

Jones’s death toll is slightly higher because she counts nonresidents who died while they were in Florida, while the state does not. States take varied approaches in accounting for nonresidents who die there, as well as for residents who die while out of state.

The case count on Jones’s dashboard is also higher because it includes people who have tested positive for antibodies, or proteins that indicate that the virus has been in someone’s body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that antibody tests are not foolproof and that a higher percentage of positive results may be incorrect in areas where few people have had the virus.

In Jones’s eyes, the divergences from the state’s data site were necessary.

“If you’re creating something that simply presents a very narrow view of a situation that’s complex and nuanced but affects everybody’s lives, then you’re not enabling them to take action, to take some semblance of control over what they’re going through,” she said of the state health department’s dashboard.AD

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Jones said she plans to keep her dashboard running, from her home in Tallahassee, for as long as it seems to be useful for residents and she can afford to do so. If a vaccine is developed, she said she wants her site to include information about distribution.

The project has been neither easy — Jones said she has been working 12-hour days — nor cheap. To launch the site, Jones said she bought a new computer, upgraded her hard drive and licensed the software that she uses to create the maps. A GoFundMe page had raised nearly $27,000 for her as of Friday evening.

While Jones said she is open to talking with the health department about selling her dashboard to the state, she insisted that she did not launch the project out of spite or revenge.

“It really is because I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and what happened to me, as unfair as it was, and get back to doing what I wanted to do in the first place, which was help people,” she said.AD

Jacqueline Dupree contributed to this report.