A freshly released exposé debunks the conspiracy theory that Florida manipulated data to make their COVID-19 response look better than it actually was.
According to a news release from Governor DeSantis' office, the "year-long corporate media smear campaign against Governor DeSantis and Florida’s hardworking public health leaders" was "destroyed" on Thursday when National Review published a damning new report disproving all previous allegations.
The Governor's news release states that "the single source for this conspiracy theory was a disgruntled former employee of the Florida Department of Health" named Rebekah Jones. In the report, National Review concludes that while "[Jones] alleges a vast data conspiracy in Florida", "none of it is true."
Jones, who was a former dashboard manager at the Florida Department of Health (FDOH), claimed that she was "instructed by her superiors to alter the 'raw' data so that Florida’s COVID response would look better", adding that she was "fired because she had refused to take part in a massive cover-up."
In reality, reports National Review, "not only was there no cover-up but the agency did everything it could to de-escalate the situation around this employee before it eventually became untenable."
The situation in question is quite bizarre. Jones, whose job it was to run a website, allegedly gave herself more power, and began sharing false infographics and representing the FDOH without permission, moves that potentially exposed personnel data. She was reprimanded, but continued to mess with the system, at one point making herself "the sole person within the FDOH who had administrator status." According to National Review, when asked, Jones justified her actions "as the result of 'security concerns'", though what those concerns were, she did not say. On May 15, 2020, Jones "sent a mass email to everyone who used the dashboard ... explaining that she was no longer assigned to the dashboard and suggesting that she had been removed because she had refused to manipulate data."
The media jumped on Jones' story, and before long, a conspiracy theory was born. News outlets, many of whom pride themselves on telling the truth, began peddling what was essentially a fairytale dreamed up by a wannabe martyr.
As National Review reports, Jones claimed that she was instructed by Florida's deputy secratary of health Dr. Shamarial Roberson "to 'delete cases and deaths' in order to present a rosier version of what was happening in the state." Her claim that Dr. Roberson "asked [her] to go into the raw data and manually alter figures" is ridiculous on many levels. Not only does not match with her original story, but more importantly, "Jones did not have the ability to edit the raw data." According to National Review, "only a handful of people in Florida are permitted to touch that information, and Jones was not among them. Instead, each day she was given a copy of the data and charged with uploading it into the system in a manner determined by the epidemiological team.” They add that "had [Jones] for some reason decided to alter that copy, it would have been obvious to everyone within seconds of its being compared with the original."
Desperate to reveal her truth, Jones launched her own dashboard, which according to National Review, used the same data that she had said was faulty. The difference was in how she presented it. Jones "counts positive antibody tests as cases", and includes non-residents, statistics that are not included in Florida's official numbers, and go against the guidelines set up by the FDA and CDC.
Jones' story was covered by everyone from local Florida papers to NPR, The Washington Post, and CNN. Forbes even called her the "tech person of the year." The headlines, all compiled in the Florida Governor's office's news release, parrot the same message; Florida's COVID-19 response is worse than they're making it out to be, and Jones is the only person the public should trust. Joy Reid of MSNBC even went so far as to say that "Nothing’ Gov. Ron DeSantis has done with the virus has been honest."
Jones has managed to build a wall of invincibility around herself by deeming any criticism to be part of "an alt-right conspiracy and misinformation campaign." By simply branding anyone who is not on her side as "alt-right", in cahoots with DeSantis or Putin, Jones is able to keep pushing her conspiracy.
So what do the official numbers really say? The data shows that Florida's COVID-19 death rate is "lower than the national average", a feat accomplished "without draconian lockdowns, unscientific mask mandates, or invasive vaccine passports."
The Florida experiment has proven that giving people the freedom to make their own decisions while protecting the vulnerable is a viable strategy to combating a pandemic in modern times. However, instead of congratulating and emulating Florida's policies, "[Jones] has caused millions of people to believe quite sincerely that the state’s many successes during the pandemic have been built atop fraud."