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Newly Available COVID Data Not Enough to Quell Public Records Lawsuit

September 15th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

This week, county-level COVID deaths stats have been made available for the first time since Florida shutdown its daily COVID dashboard in June.

A state lawmaker suing the state for access to more data believes his lawsuit may have something to do with it, but data scientists aren’t so quick to call foul play.

The new White House COVID-19 Community Profile Report includes a break down of deaths in Florida by County.

It’s the first time the detailed information has been included for roughly three months.

“It is not a coincidence,” said Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith.

Representative Smith, who is suing the state for access to more detailed COVID data, said the timing of the release is suspect.

“They have a history of only sharing information and public records after they’ve been sued,” said Smith.

The Governor’s Office responded accusing the Representative of politicizing COVID data.

“It is disappointing that anyone – including activist groups and lawmakers – would question the integrity of Florida’s public health professionals by inappropriately politicizing their important work,” said DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw.

The Department of Health also pushed back, blaming the lack of Florida data appearing in the White House reports on the CDC.

“The Department continues to provide, and has provided, CDC county COVID-19 data since March 2020.We do not have control over the display of these data by CDC,” said DOH Communications Director Weesam Khoury in an emailed statement.

USF Epidemiologist Dr. Jason Salemi said he finds the department’s defense credible.

“Undoubtedly the Department of Health has been reporting this information,” said Dr. Salemi. “My suspicion is, maybe the Department of Health didn’t even know it wasn’t being updated until they were finally informed.”

Representative Smith told us even with the county by county death data now available, his lawsuit will still go forward.

That’s because he’s seeking detailed demographic breakdowns on the county level for hospitalizations, cases and deaths.

“Some of these specific breakdowns, particularly by age, are very important as our kids are returning to school,” said Smith.

Salemi and Smith both agree, more data is never a bad thing.

“There’s always going to be somebody who wants more and more data, and I’m one of those people,” said Salemi.

Smith’s lawsuit is scheduled for a hearing Monday afternoon.

The Department of Health had no comment regarding the case.

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