The Florida Department of Health will no longer update its Covid-19 dashboard and will suspend daily case and vaccine reports, the governor’s office confirmed on Friday. Officials will instead post weekly updates, becoming the first U.S. state to move to such an infrequent publishing schedule.
Officials first announced last week that the state would end daily reports in a news release outlining Florida’s plans to transition into the next phase of its Covid-19 response now that cases in the state are decreasing. Last month, Florida closed its state-run testing sites but gave counties the option of taking them over.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary, Christina Pushaw, told The News Service of Florida on Friday that there is no need to keep issuing the daily reports.
“Covid-19 cases have significantly decreased over the past year as we have a less than 5 percent positivity rate, and our state is returning to normal, with vaccines widely available throughout Florida,” Pushaw said in an email to reporters.
In the past two weeks, Florida has seen a 43 percent drop in coronavirus cases and deaths, and 50 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose, just below the national average of 51 percent, according to a New York Times database.
Florida’s dashboard was created in part by Rebekah D. Jones, a state data scientist who was fired for insubordination in May 2020, a conflict that she said came to a head when she refused to manipulate data to show that rural counties were ready to reopen from coronavirus lockdowns. The data in fact showed that the virus was rapidly spreading in a state that was hesitant to mandate broad restrictions and eager to reopen.
Ms. Jones’s firing became a flash point as Mr. DeSantis, a close ally of then-President Donald J. Trump, touted Florida’s early success in battling the virus — a victory lap that turned out to be premature at the time and led to a disastrous summer. State officials insisted that her claims about hiding virus data were false. She was dismissed, they said, because she made unilateral decisions to modify the virus dashboard without approval.
After Ms. Jones was fired, she made her own database using public virus case records from the Florida Department of Health that had been buried deep in PDF files on the state website.
In December, state police agents with guns drawn raided Ms. Jones’s home in Tallahassee to execute a search warrant in a criminal investigation, after police said a breach at the Florida Department of Health was traced to her computer. She denied having anything to do with the breach.
Ms. Jones’s dashboard generally shows a higher number of cases than the number reported by the state. It also includes information from other agencies, such as hospitalization rates from the Agency for Health Care Administration, that are not on the state dashboard.
But after the state announced that it would no longer update its public records, Ms. Jones wrote on her database that she wouldn’t be able to update her dashboard either.
“No more data,” she wrote. “Only summary reports in PDF format. Please be patient as I work to reformat the website to adjust for these changes.”