ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Most of you probably never heard the name Rebekah Jones before May 19.
That’s when headlines broke about the former Department of Health employee being fired after she says she was asked to manipulate numbers on the COVID-19 Dashboard.
The state says she was asked to resign due to insubordination. Well, first we were told by the governor’s office her job was terminated and when we asked for the termination date, that’s when a spokesperson with the Florida Department of Health said Jones had until later that week to resign.
That same day, Gov. Ron DeSantis was asked at a press conference about the headlines and in his comments said, “I don’t know who she is.”
The very next day, the governor had some harsh words about Jones.
When 10 Investigates asked her about what’s been said, she told us, “The campaign to diminish my role in making the dashboard and to defame me publicly by saying I've ever been convicted of anything anywhere, which is false, is absolutely false, or that I'm under an active investigation for anything which is also false is so that when I stepped into a legislative hearing, prepared to testify against the state and DOH about what happened, that there is a swirl of controversy around me so thick that nothing that I say is really going to be heard. I know that's why that's happening. There's no other fathomable reason why the governor of a state would lie on live TV in front of the Vice President of the United States about a person that he had never met.”
Jones has kept away from the spotlight since those headlines broke. She didn’t go to the press about her situation, she told us she found out about the initial story as it was being published.
Since then, we’ve reached out to Jones, much like other journalists have, but she told us she needed to have some private time to herself.
This wasn’t the first time we communicated with Jones. When she was still with the Department of Health, we were given her email by the DOH when we were asking about death data being reported. She emailed us back saying she would look into our questions but needed to speak to the epidemiologists first. That’s the last time we exchanged emails with Jones while she was still employed with the state.
Last week, Jones reached out to us via email. She wrote, “I believe we all have a commitment to truth and transparency. That is, after all, how I ended up here.”
She attached documents with data and listed inconsistencies in the state’s reporting. We were able to independently verify the majority of what she shared. Some of the documents we filed public records requests for and are still waiting for a response on.
She spoke to us to set the record straight on why she’s still paying close attention to Florida’s coronavirus data and how she’s creating a new dashboard with the state provided data to include elements she wanted to have in the original design.
“‘I've built a new one because there were a lot of things I always wanted to see in that dashboard and was told no. Two of the most critical elements of that being that people need to not just say, Hey, here's this really scary, terrifying information. Have fun with it. That's step one. Step two should be here's how you can get tested,” said Jones.
Jones sent 10 Tampa Bay a press release Thursday outlining the difference in her dashboard.
Jones told us she’s getting the data from the same state websites we all have access to. For this reason, some of the graphs and information will look the same, but it will also include some other data sets not included in the state’s dashboard like a report card for each county, recoveries, hospitalizations and beds currently available. She wants to put where people can get tested, where they can find food banks, where people can find resources to get the help they need.
She told us, “If I didn't care, I wouldn't be adding the elements. If I was just trying to stick it to DOH, I would just publish the exact same dashboard that I did before, which would take me two hours to build. But that's not what I'm doing. I want people to get help. That's all I've ever wanted was to help people and be able to use information to make safer and informed decisions.”
Here is a link to the dashboard Jones created.
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