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IG report finds Rebekah Jones' claims of COVID-19 manipulation to be unfounded

Rebekah Jones says Florida law enforcement agents seized electronic devices from her home in retaliation for her sharing COVID-19 data — and criticizing the state's pandemic response.
Rebekah Jones says Florida law enforcement agents seized electronic devices from her home in retaliation for her sharing COVID-19 data — and criticizing the state's pandemic response.

A state investigation into allegations that the Florida Department of Health fudged COVID-19 case numbers to support Gov. Ron DeSantis’ effort to reopen the state after a shutdown in April 2020, has found no evidence of wrongdoing.

A state investigation into allegations that the Florida Department of Health fudged COVID-19 case numbers to support Gov. Ron DeSantis’ effort to reopen the state after a shutdown in April 2020, has found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Fired DOH analyst Rebecca Jones claimed she was let go from her job managing the state’s COVID-19 dashboard after she refused to manipulate the data.

Jones gained national media attention for her claims, even starting a rival dashboard system. She also became a high-profile critic of DeSantis amid his efforts to restart the state’s economy and reopen schools.

The investigation, done by DOH’s inspector general Michael Bennett, found there wasn’t enough evidence to support or disprove many of Jones’ accusations. Other claims were unfounded, meaning that the issue raised did not occur.

As Jones battled with the state in 2020, police executed a search warrant at her home as part of an investigation into a November 2020 unauthorized login into the Department of Health’s messaging system. An unidentified person gained access to that system and sent a message stating, “it’s time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be a part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late.” Jones later turned herself in and posted bond. She is still facing felony charges for the incident.

In June of last year, Jones announced she is challenging North Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz. In a statement to the Tallahassee Democrat, Jones said of the OIG findings, "I don't think it was ever realistic for them to come out and be like, 'yeah, everything she said is true, we're sorry my bad,'" and says she plans to sue the state for wrongful termination in federal court.

"It's not something I am ever going to forget or truly ever get over...In some ways, it's a relief to have this thing over after two years."

The Department of Health has maintained Jones was fired for modifying data without input from agency epidemiologists or her supervisors. Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ spokeswoman, was an early skeptic of Jones’ claims, publishing an article titled “The ‘Florida COVID-19 Whistleblower ‘saga is a big lie,” on the site Human Events, calling Jones’ allegations into question. In a response on twitter to another user, Pushaw said, “This is why the long-awaited conclusion of the Rebekah Jones story (she made it all up) actually matters so much. It was all partisan politics to certain DC & NYC media personalities, but in Florida, the conspiracy theory did actual harm (to apolitical people).”

You can read the Inspector General Report here. It was first reported by NBC News’ Marc Caputo.

Copyright 2022 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.
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