Fired Florida scientist builds coronavirus site showing far more cases than state reports
PALM BEACH, Florida - Florida's former leading coronavirus data scientist has launched a website that displays far more COVID-19 information than the state has reported as employees, including statistics that contradict Florida's official coronavirus numbers, associated with the move to reopen the state.
Former Department of Health geography researcher Rebekah Jones created FloridaCOVIDAction.com, which claims that the state's widely read publicly accessible dashboard reports how many people tested positive for the pathogen. Florida is also over-counting how many have been tested, Jones said, in favor of Governor Ron DeSantis' efforts to reopen the state after two months of quarantine.
"I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and do something constructive, something useful with the skills I've had for so long," said Jones. "People have the right to know what's going on in a straightforward manner."
More: The fired DOH official reveals new details of the alleged attempted manipulation of the COVID-19 data
The information her dashboard reports comes from publicly available status data, many of which are not reported directly on government websites, but are buried in thousands of pages of reports or scattered PDF files. It contains hard-to-find hospital capacity information provided by another government agency, the Agency for Health Care Administration.
Jones, who created the state dashboard, said she was released on May 18 after refusing to "manipulate" COVID-19 data to justify reopening. DeSantis said she was released because "she didn't listen to the people who were her superiors."
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In its most striking break from the state, Jones' website shows far more people with the disease than the state reports. To the daily number of people with positive coronavirus tests, Jones adds those who are positive for antibodies that can indicate the presence of the disease.
While the health department reported 69,069 confirmed cases on Thursday, 75,897 cases were reported on the Jones website.
More: Public statements led to the dismissal of the Florida Virus Data Curator
This could be a mistake, warned Dr. Terry Adirim, chair of the Department of Integrated Biomedical Science at Florida Atlantic University. She warned against combining the results because antibody tests are more prone to false positives. Jones also shows the state's balance sheet separately.
Jones' website also offers a different death toll. It listed 2,938 Florida deaths on Thursday, while the state listed 2,848 deaths because its website lists deaths from non-residents infected with the virus in Florida.
The state has excluded these people since mid-April. The Palm Beach Post includes non-resident deaths in its daily reporting.
Tests or people tested?
One of Jones' most controversial claims after her release was that the state was playing around with the so-called positivity rate to justify reopening counties that were unwilling to use the wrong test data to draw conclusions.
On Thursday, the website of the Ministry of Health stated on its website more than 1.3 million "people tested" in bold. However, according to Jones' website, the actual number is 30 percent below just over 1 million.
More: The dismissed scientist defends her COVID-19 data role and portrays the Florida Department of Health as corrupt
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The state test list reflects the number of tests performed, not the number of people tested, as a state data guide shows.
The number Jones reports is not on a government-run, easy-to-view public website. It can be found by downloading data that non-programmers would find incomprehensible. Swiss Post is using this data for a test card from district to district, which has been available on its website since March.
If Florida actually gives a false number of people tested, the health situation in Florida looks better than it is. By dividing the number of cases into the number of tests instead of the number of people tested, the state incorrectly reports a lower percentage of people tested positive, Jones said.
More: Florida scientists were fired for refusing to manipulate COVID-19 data, she said
When DeSantis allowed most of the state to reopen in early May, he relied in part on positive attitudes and demanded that less than 10 percent of people tested in each county have positive test results before a county reopened.
Some counties that met the state formula criteria may not have met Jones' definition.
For example, Palm Beach County would have a 12 percent positivity rate using the Jones formula, while the state would calculate a positivity rate of less than 8 percent.
A certificate when reopening
The state allowed Palm Beach County to reopen shops on May 11th, even after uncovered outbreaks in the Glades and Lake Worth Beach were tested. The number of new daily cases in the county has skyrocketed since the end of May.
Jones' dashboard shows "testimonials" that assess each county’s willingness to enter phase 2.
Government benchmarks for reopening include two weeks of declining counts in new cases, declines in COVID-like illnesses in hospitals and emergency rooms, and positive results.
According to Jones' calculations based on data reported last week, only two counties qualify: Liberty and Clay.
But without the support of the state, it is uncertain that their side will win the public. In a statement announcing the new website, Jones said that their website "will always be under construction" and "we look forward to hearing from the community what they want to see on their dashboard."
The Jones website also lists details the state collected for each victim, including data prior to March 1, when Florida announced its first cases. “92-year-old man in Palm Beach County, who was first diagnosed or tested on February 29, 2020 at 7:00 p.m. and became an official case after DOH received positive laboratory results on March 27, 2020, 1:00 a.m. For example, a record reads.
"We weren't really allowed to alert deaths, so I added hospitalizations and deaths that use something that we buried in a PDF but never displayed on our dashboard," said Jones. "This way, people can focus on the aspect of humanity."
Where can you be tested?
While the state's dashboard only shows the number of residents who have ever been hospitalized with COVID-19, Jones includes hospitalizations and deaths from non-residents. AHCA data is also retrieved to indicate the number of beds available in the intensive care unit from the hospital. This shows the strain that the virus is causing in healthcare.
Unlike the status dashboard, Jones includes a map of hundreds of test locations across the state with information like phone numbers, addresses, and scheduling an appointment.
Jones created the state's dashboard and map in March and worked on one point, she said, 36 days without a day off. It was developed by Dr. Deborah Birx, Coronavirus Response Coordinator at the White House, praised. Jones was responsible for updating the nationwide coronavirus numbers, which list the number of tests and confirmed cases for each county.
A Department of Health manager asked Jones in early May to hide the state information from the public the night before the Post's report. The post reported that Floridians felt COVID-19 symptoms as early as January. Jones emailed her boss that the call was "wrong," but removed the data.
After the post story was published, it was brought back to the website.
Jones was released from her data management duties on May 5 in retaliation for refusing to "manipulate" the data to make the coronavirus less common among those who tested it.
On May 29, the state's dashboard went offline for a day, hidden behind a sign-in screen, when a Department of Health worker tried to program the software that powers the dashboard to make the data private.
Jones, who lives in Tallahassee, has opened a GoFundMe account while working on her dashboard with the goal of raising $ 50,000. Contributors have donated more than $ 4,000 to date.
"I was very, very concerned about paying bills next Friday," she said.
Follow Chris Persaud on Twitter: @chrismpersaud
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Florida Coronavirus: Rebekah Jones counts more cases than officials
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