TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Fired Florida data scientist Rebekah Jones claims the state’s numbers aren’t telling the whole story, so she launched her own coronavirus dashboard. Jones claims that Florida has more positive COVID-19 cases than the Department of Health is reporting.
“They’re lying about the number of people tested, they are flat out lying,” Rebekah Jones told 8 On Your Side.
At first glance, Jones’ site looks a lot like the Florida Department of Health’s dashboard. And no wonder because, until a few weeks ago, Jones was the one who helped create and update the state site.
But while the state is currently reporting approximately 77,300 cases, Jones claims more than 85,400 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Florida.
“If you got a confirmed positive lab result, whether it is an antibody test or a molecular test, I’m putting you in there,” said Jones. “I think the way they’re choosing to use the numbers is misleading.”
Another example is the number of deaths.
Jones says she included the nearly 100 victims who did not have a legal Florida address.
She says her goal is to give Floridians a clear snapshot of the virus’ toll.
“It is literally only their data. All I have done is pull it, scrape it (and) put it into a format that people can process easily,” said Jones.
8 On Your Side reached out to the Florida Department of Health and Governor Ron DeSantis’ Office about these allegations on Monday.
They sent us the following statement:
“Rebekah Jones’ (RJ) Dashboard aggregates disparate sets of data without considering many of the important guidelines utilized by epidemiologists to arrive at their conclusions.
For example, the Department of Health’s (DOH) Dashboard reports total cases using total number of individuals with positive Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test results. This is the standard method of diagnostic testing for COVID-19and antibody test results are provided separately. The RJ Dashboard, however, simply adds the total number of individuals with positive antibody test results to the total number of individuals with positive PCR tests.
It is important to note, however, that antibody tests are not typically used or considered effective for diagnosing cases of COVID-19 and that these data are not deduplicated on the RJ Dashboard. 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.
The DOH Dashboard reports deaths in Florida Residents, which is in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations and prevents double counting of deaths in confirmed cases from outside of Florida.
When the Department receives information regarding a death in a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a non-Florida Resident, we contact 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. The RJ Dashboard incorporates non-Florida Resident deaths, which is contrary to CDC recommendations and creates instances where deaths may be reported more than once across multiple states or countries.
The RJ Dashboard reports estimated case recovery data. Currently, there are multiple ways for recovered cases to be recorded and several methods are used by different countries and states. Some countries and states measure a case as recovered when a person has had COVID-19 for more than 14 days, while others rely upon hospital discharge data – neither of which completely capture recovery of the full COVID-positive population. The Florida Department of Health will continue to provide information on hospitalizations and deaths to keep the public informed about the threat of the virus.
Finally, the DOH Dashboard utilizes official sources, such as 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, when calculating and reporting data.
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 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.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis has criticized Jones in the past.
“She was putting data on the portal which the scientists didn’t believe was valid data,” the governor said last month.
Gov. DeSantis also said Jones wasn’t even a data scientist.
Essentially, he said, she was insubordinate, under-qualified and a trouble-maker.
“She is not the chief architect of our web portal,” said DeSantis.
Jones says everything Gov. DeSantis has said about her is false.
“That I’m not a data scientist or the architect,” said Jones, “Well, I kind of just built the whole site again in like, a day. So I think that speaks for itself.”