It’s the summertime and a whole lot of people are itching to go on vacation. Florida is always a popular destination, between the beaches on the east and west coast, the theme parks in the center, and everything else the state has to offer. And lucky(?) for travelers, Florida started reopening early.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was in the latter half of governors to put a state’s stay-at-home orders into effect (the 31st state to do so, on April 3) and one of the first (on May 4) to begin lifting them. He claimed he was allowing places to reopen through a “slow, methodical and data-driven approach.”
But speaking of data, for the past week, the number of cases in Florida has steadily increased. Whereas we usually had between 400 and 1100 new cases per day in early May, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases since June 3 has grown by 1,000 or more every single day except for June 8 (only 966 new cases were confirmed that day). From June 9 to 11 the numbers were well over 1,000 per day and on June 12 there were 2,400+ new cases reported. So for 10 of the last 11 days, there’ve been more than 1,000 confirmed cases per day, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Gov. DeSantis is insisting the higher numbers are because of more people being tested, long-term care facilities, and farmworkers. However, as per the Department of Agriculture communications director: “…the Governor is mistaken regarding agriculture being the main driver of COVID-19 in Florida. We’re seeing evidence of community spread of COVID-19 in areas where farms are located, but the vast majority of farmworkers left agricultural communities several weeks ago, as harvests have ended.”
So if there’s a question if how he’s explaining the data is incorrect, is it possible his data is also incorrect?
Yup. Just ask Rebekah Jones. She used to work for the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) but the former top 2019 Novel Coronavirus data scientist was removed from her data management duties on May 5, and then fired on May 18. She said it happened because she refused to “manipulate” COVID-19 data (read: make it look less prevalent) to justify reopening. Ron DeSantis said she was fired because “she didn’t listen to the people who were her superiors.”
Anyway, Rebekah Jones has been keeping her own, accurate records of COVID testing, deaths and new diagnoses ever since she was fired. The information is all available on the FDOH’s website, if you know where to look and can understand their data. Jones can because that’s what she did for a living before she was fired for refusing to do something unethical, despite when it was coming from her superiors.
Anyway, the Palm Beach Post did a report of Jones’ history at the FDOH, and why her numbers look so different from the numbers the state is putting out there.
Here are screenshots of the FDOH’s current numbers (top) and Jones’ (bottom). They were taken about 1 minute apart.
Jones’ numbers of positive people are over 13% higher than FDOH’s. Her number of deaths is also higher. If you go to her site (really, go – it’s fascinating!), you can also click on the tabs that give significantly more information about hospitalizations, testing (per county), whether each county should be able to go to the next phase of reopening based on FDOH’s criteria (spoiler: only 2 of 68 counties meet the criteria), etc. than FDOH’s.
My take on this
As a Floridian, I’m very disappointed that our government would be willing to manipulate the numbers so much, in order to justify reopening. Even to the point of firing a top leading scientist for no other reason than she had morals? I’m not surprised by this, of course – any place that’s dealing with numbers has the ability to manipulate the data; it’s just a matter of whether or not they’re willing to. Apparently, our state government is indeed willing. But it’s sad and more than a little bit scary that they would be willing to put peoples’ health above the economy. And yes, I know the economy is important – but potentially at the risk of peoples’ lives?
Governor DeSantis initially said that he would reopen the state in phases using a system that “includes a downward trajectory of the syndromic and epidemiology criteria while maintaining adequate health care capacity. This will occur when there is no evidence of a rebound or resurgence of COVID-19 cases and satisfies the benchmarks outlined in this Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. plan.” Yet he went to Phase 2 on June 5, when our numbers were already inching up since introducing Phase 1. They’ve been rising by leaps and bounds ever since, but he’s not talking about a way to slow cases down (mandatory facial coverings and social distancing, anyone?); he’s just making excuses and suggesting scapegoats, such as farm workers.
And, of course, he fired the person who was ensuring our numbers were accurate.
But here’s the problem. With the country opening things up, albeit some places faster than others, more people are looking towards travel. They may decide on where to travel based on what a state’s government is saying in terms of the number of cases. The Florida government had set up guidelines to meet to say it’s safe, not only for its residents, but for people who are planning to visit here. But instead of waiting for the time when our numbers are remaining low or even continuing to decrease to ensure we’re all safe, they’re either manipulating the numbers to make them look better than they are, or are totally ignoring their own advice and opening things more anyway.
Either way, it’s dishonest. And dangerous.
As people who live here, it gives us even less trust in what the governor is telling us. For visitors, they may decide to vacation in Florida when it’s more dangerous to come here than they thought. Because economy over people.
How horrible is that?
And yes, I know – for some people, the numbers don’t mean anything. They’re already walking around as if nothing is wrong, 2 feet from the person in front of them, and without any facial coverings. They don’t care if our numbers are fudged or not or, apparently, if they potentially give their coronacooties to anyone else. Which is, if you ask me, as horrid and uncaring as a human could ever be. But as long as they get to their favorite bar on the beach, life is good, right?
But for those of you who do care…personally, I’m going to watch Dr. Jones’ numbers more than the state’s. Again, you can find her stats via a link on this page. That page also has a link to a Go Fund Me, if you’re of the mind to support her efforts.
Now go wash your hands. And put a flippin’ mask on – it won’t kill you. But it might stop someone else from getting the virus from you, so it won’t kill them.
And don’t come to Florida. Despite what the government apparently thinks, I think your life is more important than our economy.
#stayhealthy #staysafe #washyourhands
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary