Licensed data scientist’s claims about manipulation of Covid-19 data ‘unsubstantiated’ – CBS Tampa

FLORIDA (CW44 News At 10 | CNN) – Allegations that the Florida Department of Health fired an employee for objecting to the manipulation of coronavirus data were “unsubstantiated,” according to a report of the State Inspector General.

Former state data scientist Rebekah Jones claimed she was pressured by health department officials to tamper with Covid-19 data to hide the extent of Florida’s outbreak in the early months of the pandemic. In a report finalized in March, the state inspector general’s office said there was insufficient evidence to prove its claims and exonerated employees accused of orchestrating a cover-up.

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In a complaint filed in July 2020, Jones, who was responsible for managing Florida’s Covid-19 data dashboard, alleged that she was fired after refusing to follow orders to manipulate data on the dashboard. board to support lifting coronavirus restrictions to reopen the state when it was actually unsafe to do so.

Investigators determined that the state’s Covid-19 data was not falsified, saying in the report that Jones’ alleged manipulation “did not take place.”

Witnesses within the department told investigators they were ‘skeptical’ of Jones’ initial claims that she was asked to manipulate data because she was not an epidemiologist and did not have access to repositories. of underlying Covid-19 data from the dashboard. The report said Jones only had access to a public dashboard that visualized the data, and that this information matched the data the department shared in a daily report to the public.

“If the complainant or another DOH staff member had falsified the COVID-19 data on the dashboard, then the dashboard would not have matched the data on the corresponding Final Daily Report,” the report said, noting that “Such a discrepancy” would have been detected by State Bureau of Epidemiology personnel and other groups such as local governments and the media.

Several current and former Department of Health employees interviewed by investigators “denied ever being asked by anyone to falsify or alter COVID-19 data or witnessing someone else’s instruction to falsify or modify COVID-19 data,” according to the report.

Jones, in his complaint, also alleged that health department officials ordered him to delete a “data hub” containing underlying surveillance data from the dashboard before telling him to reactivate it within 24 hours, according to the report.

The report found Jones’ allegation to be correct, citing interviews with officials who said the data had been temporarily removed for review because they feared it contained publicly available personal information of patients related to the reported cases of Covid-19. However, the report concluded that the officials’ actions did not violate any policy since the “data center” was not required to be made available to the public.

The 27-page report was first reported Thursday by NBC News.

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In response, Jones described the report’s conclusion that he was asked to remove certain data as a “vindication”.

“I’m relieved to be vindicated,” she said, in part, in a statement. “It feels like a huge weight is lifting me from finally being vindicated, after all this time, all of the state’s efforts to defame and smear me, and the failed attempts to discredit me with baseless claims that ultimately turned out to be wrong.”

Governor Ron DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond Friday to CNN’s request for comment on the inspector general’s report and Jones’ response.

Jones publicly shared the story of her firing before leaving the department in May 2020 and became a high-profile critic of DeSantis, accusing the Republican of downplaying the extent of Florida’s outbreak during the pandemic.

When she was fired, the health department said Jones was fired because she “shown a repeated course of insubordination,” making “one-sided decisions to alter the COVID- 19 of the department without the input or approval of the epidemiological team or its supervisors”.

In December 2020, police executed a search warrant at Jones’ home in Tallahassee as part of a state investigation into whether she accessed a state messaging system without permission to implore employees to speak. of Covid-19 deaths in the state.

In May 2021, she was granted whistleblower status by the Inspector General, although the final report said the decision was “based solely on the nature of the complainant’s allegations as presented” in her original complaint.

Jones went to jail in January 2021 after a warrant was issued for her arrest. She posted bail and walked out of jail after telling reporters she had tested positive for Covid-19. She was charged with one count of misdemeanor offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks and electronic devices, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said. She pleaded not guilty, according to court records, and the case is still pending.

Jones has become politically active since leaving the health department and is now running in a Democratic primary to challenge U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz for her district of Panhandle.

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