It has taken far too long for the media outrage and accusations against Governor Ron DeSantis regarding his COVID performance to die down – it has basically taken for the pandemic to fade in order for the squeals to subside. Even today, there are those who remain committed to the slings and arrows approach, despite the overall results showing Florida weathered things as well as most states.
One of the primary forces behind the criticism was Rebekah Jones, the former Florida Department of Health computer worker. Jones elevated her own stature and positioned herself as a whistleblower who was exposing manipulations and corruption from DeSantis and from within the FDOH, alleging that she had been instructed to manipulate data and position the state as performing better in response to the pandemic. She had been the darling of the media, as a result, brought onto numerous networks and conducting interviews with anyone willing to give her airtime, with few interested in giving her the vetting treatment.
It was in February of 2021 when I detailed many of the problems with Jones and her infamy in the press, showing how she was used as a reason to slam DeSantis all while failing to deliver a solid foundation of proof. Now a death knell of sorts has been levied against her myth-making. The FDOH Office of the Inspector General has issued a 27-page report which states conclusively that as far as the various claims made by Jones, she has abjectly failed to substantiate…anything.
The IG report looked into the accusations and the people claimed to be behind the subterfuge and came to the conclusion that none of the claims made by Jones are valid. All the charges they looked into were ruled to be unsubstantiated, and those named in the charges are deemed exonerated. Jones has been found to be nothing more than a fabulist.
The problem is most of these findings had either been known, or her lack of cogent evidence had been realized back in the summer of 2020 when she rose to prominence. The press was content to bring her on and make her allegations when, all the while, her proof of this alleged wrongdoing was mostly vacant. They also swooned over her commentary despite her story shifting significantly.
When Jones initially came into prominence, her gripe was that she disagreed with the way the FDOH was tracking positivity rates. In fact, it was in May 2020 when she arrived on the media radar, with her commentary being that she did not approve of the methods of measurements being used. Jones is not a doctor nor a scientist; she is a computer technician, so her dispute with the metrics was in no way valid. Even so, she said at the time there was no manipulation taking place.
Jones has not alleged any tampering with data on deaths, hospital symptom surveillance, hospitalizations for COVID-19, numbers of new confirmed cases, or overall testing rates — core elements of any assessment of the outbreak and of federal criteria for reopening. And Jones acknowledges Florida has been relatively transparent — for which she herself claims some credit — and relatively successful in controlling the pandemic.
It was later when her story shifted significantly, then going on to claim that she had been instructed to actually alter the figures and data in order to present a different level of statewide success and burnish the image of DeSantis and his desire to reopen the state. There were problems evident with this charge, but the press at the time elected to overlook these issues.
Jones resorted to mostly vague accusatory comments, but the most direct item she could point to was in fact benign in nature. She had been instructed to halt inputting data for a very brief period, not to change any case numbers but in order for the dates of reporting of certain numbers to be verified against the accurately collected data. It was purely a corrective measure, made in the name of being more accurate with reporting times.
The other problem with the claims by Jones ignored by so many journalists is that she did not possess the ability to change the data she claims to have been told to alter. It was literally above her pay grade. Only the upper-level doctors at FDOH even had direct access to this data. She merely would be given the data in order to upload it into the state’s COVID portal, and this exposes the ruse.
If she altered the data she was granted then it would be in direct conflict with the collected data documents. The FDOH collected reports from departments all across the state and then compiled them, eventually loading that collected data into the portal. Any discrepancy would be relatively easy to spot, to refute, and the official reports from the regions would reflect that alteration. Further, following her initial claims of problems, the state’s portal has been monitored closely by numerous news outlets in Florida. There has been no finding of data manipulation in the press as she has charged. This was the conclusion from the IG Report.
Moreover, without system access to COVlD-19 surveillance data in Merlin and ESSENCE, the complainant [Jones] only had the ability to change or otherwise alter the dashboard’s visualization of the COVlD-19 data analysis that had already been published and distributed in final daily reports by the time the complainant received the dataset from the BOE. Therefore, if the complainant or other DOH staff were to have falsified COVID-19 data on the dashboard, the dashboard would then not have matched the data in the corresponding final daily report. Such a discrepancy would have been detectable by BOE staff conducting data quality assurance, as well as other parties, both within and outside the DOH, including but not limited to CHDs, local governments, researchers, the press/media, and the general public.
And this underscores the entire farce of the media adulation of Rebekah Jones. After all of this time, with persistent allusions that Florida had been cooking the books and DeSantis misrepresenting the COVID stats to build up his stature, there has been one and only one source of these allegations over the years. No one else has come forward to back these claims, no data has ever been presented to show manipulative efforts, and no news outlet has broken a story showing definitive false moves made by the state or the FDOH. It has always and only been Jones that was pointed at as a sign of wrongdoing.
The revealing aspect of this – Jones has yet to display any right-doing. Yet for much of this time, the press had granted her airtime and given her conspiracy claims oxygen, meanwhile, she never managed to give them anything tangible in the form of proof. Now she has been shown to be severely lacking in just that.