The data manager who claimed Florida’s Department of Health was fudging COVID-19 numbers to make the state look better now says she plans to run for congress to unseat Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz.
NBC News last week, in an article glorifying alleged “whistleblower” Rebekah Jones while pointing out Gaetz’s political vulnerabilities, reported that Jones was planning to run for congress. “Florida Covid whistle-blower Rebekah Jones hopes to unseat scandal-scarred Rep. Matt Gaetz,” read NBC’s headline.
Of course, NBC did not mention any of the issues with Jones’ claims or her history of false statements and legal issues. Last month, National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke reported that Jones’ claims about being told to alter Florida’s COVID-19 data isn’t even plausible on its face, as she never handled raw data and was given a copy of the data she was supposed to input in the system.
Further, Jones’ story changed dramatically the more she told it, from her initial claims that she was fired for merely questioning the data. The Associated Press initially reported that “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.” The outlet also noted that “Jones acknowledges Florida has been relatively transparent — for which she herself claims some credit — and relatively successful in controlling the pandemic.”
Since that initial story, however, Jones began saying that, actually, yeah, her superiors — particularly Dr. Shamarial Roberson — had directly instructed her to “delete cases and deaths” to make Florida look better. She now claims Roberson “asked me to go into the raw data and manually alter figures.”
Again, remember that Jones didn’t have access to the raw data. She merely ran the dashboard. To further illustrate this point, National Review pointed out that Jones now runs her own dashboard, using the same data as the state, she simply displays it differently:
Or, to put it more bluntly, she displays them badly. When you get past all of the nonsense, what Jones is ultimately saying is that the State of Florida—and, by extension, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—has not processed its data in the same way that she would if she were in charge. But, frankly, why would it? Again, Jones isn’t an epidemiologist, and her objections, while compelling to the sort of low-information political obsessive she is so good at attracting, betray a considerable ignorance of the material issues. In order to increase the numbers in Florida’s case count, Jones counts positive antibody tests as cases. But that’s unsound, given that (a) those positives include people who have already had COVID-19 or who have had the vaccine, and (b) Jones is unable to avoid double-counting people who have taken both an antibody test and a COVID test that came back positive, because the state correctly refuses to publish the names of the people who have taken those tests. Likewise, Jones claims that Florida is hiding deaths because it does not include nonresidents in its headline numbers. But Florida does report nonresident deaths; it just reports them separately, as every state does, and as the CDC’s guidelines demand. Jones’s most recent claim is that Florida’s “excess death” number is suspicious. But that, too, has been rigorously debunked by pretty much everyone who understands what “excess deaths” means in an epidemiological context—including by the CDC; by Daniel Weinberger, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health; by Lauren Rossen, a statistician at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics; and, most notably, by Jason Salemi, an epidemiologist at the University of South Florida, who, having gone to the trouble of making a video explaining calmly why the talking point was false, was then bullied off Twitter by Jones and her followers.
Cooke followed up his initial reporting with another article pointing out that Jones finally admitted she was never asked to delete COVID deaths in Florida, something she had previously claimed. Jones made the admission while claiming she had never suggested she had been asked to do such a thing, but Cooke had the receipts.
Gaetz is not without his weaknesses, as he is currently under investigation by the Department of Justice, which claims he paid an underage girl for sex, a charge Gaetz vehemently denies. His spokesperson, Harlan Hill, told NBC that Gaetz “faces no criminal charges,” something Jones cannot say about herself, because she was charged in December with hacking into Florida’s computer system. She denies this.
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