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Rebekah Jones, a former Florida Department of Health data analyst turned whistleblower, is on an arrest warrant. His criticism of the Republican Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, had made him one of the symbols of the scientific world’s struggle against the pro-Trump camp in the era of Covid-19.
“Saying goodbye to my family is the hardest thing I have had to do”. A little less than a year ago, Rebekah Jones, then congratulated on all sides for her work of monitoring live the evolution of the Covid-19 epidemic in Florida, probably did not imagine have to write this message on Twitter. Yet on Saturday, January 16, she resolved to do so after deciding to surrender to the police, in accordance with an arrest warrant issued against the 31-year-old data analyst.
The Florida authorities have refused, for the time being, to reveal the charges against her, indicating only that it was a “criminal case” and that details will be provided after her placement in police custody. But there is little doubt that this arrest is linked to the conflict between Rebekah Jones and Ron DeSantis, the powerful governor of Florida and fervent supporter of outgoing President Donald Trump.
Since her dismissal from the Florida Department of Health in May 2020, this analyst has become a whistleblower and one of the symbols of the confrontation between the scientific world and the pro-Trump camp during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rebekah Jones was initially responsible for the interactive dashboard allowing anyone to follow, online, the evolution of Sars-CoV-2 virus infections on a daily basis in Florida. His work of aggregating public data and transparency was cited as an example in April by Deborah Birx, the doctor responsible for coordinating the effort to fight the coronavirus within the Trump administration.
But Rebekah Jones quickly realized that her boss governor shared little of Deborah Birx’s enthusiasm for the health transparency work she was leading. In May, she was fired, officially for “insubordination”.
A reason that she did not fail to dispute, arguing that she had simply refused to disguise the data to embellish Ron DeSantis’ record in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus. It must be said that at the time, the question of controlling the epidemic was politically crucial and sensitive.
President Donald Trump had got it into his head that the country had to reopen its economy and urged governors to end the containment measures. Ron DeSantis, a good fervent “Trumpist” from the start, wanted to establish Florida as a model state. But the real numbers of the disease at home did not officially allow to meet the conditions decreed by the federal health authorities to lift the containment measures, said Rebekah Jones.
She would then have been pressured to play on several indicators – such as ignoring the contaminations in certain small counties of the state – so that Florida comes within the nails of the health recommendations allowing to officially reopen the businesses.
Accusations of manipulation that the governor’s office vigorously denied. He claimed that Rebekah Jones had, in fact, repeatedly refused to take into account recommendations from her superiors and epidemiologists on what types of data to include in the outbreak dashboard. Ron DeSantis’ teams have also unearthed old stories of heart and “cyber-harassment” of their ex-employee, in order to portray her as someone unstable.
Attempts at destabilization
But Rebekah Jones didn’t just speak out against what she called attempts to manipulate the reality of the pandemic. In June 2020, it launched its own online platform, which is supposed to give a more accurate picture of the spread of Covid-19 in Florida.
This dashboard, which quickly became more popular than the official website, presents a much more complete and grim statement of the situation. It does not just aggregate all the figures for each county, it also provides other data that the official portal did not take into account, such as the details of hospitalizations or the figures for positive serological tests, while only the tests PCR were accounted for by the state.
Again, Ron DeSantis counterattacked. He defended the official count, stressing, moreover, that Rebekah Jones had no training as an epidemiologist and that her decision to take into account all possible and imaginable data could be misleading. In particular, he recalled that serological tests were, at the time, not yet sufficiently reliable in the eyes of part of the scientific community.
But regardless of the merits or not of the criticisms addressed to the young woman. His fight quickly captured the attention of the national media which, like CNN or MSNBC, gave him ample voice. Rebekah Jones embodied both the David who attacked the political Goliath and the voice of science which spoke out against the extremist drifts of the “anti-lockdown” movement (against containment measures).
EM – REBEKAH JONES TWEET
There will be no update today.
At 8:30 am this morning, state police came into my house and took all my hardware and tech.
They were serving a warrant on my computer after DOH filed a complaint.
They pointed a gun in my face. They pointed guns at my kids .. pic.twitter.com/DE2QfOmtPU
– Rebekah Jones (@GeoRebekah) December 7, 2020
A media exposure “which became over the weeks an increasingly embarrassing political thorn for Ron DeSantis”, notes the Washington Post. Rebekah Jones was even named “Tech Personality of the Year” by Forbes magazine.
In December, the conflict suddenly escalated after the police decided to conduct a heavy-duty search of Rebekah Jones’ home. The video of this intervention, broadcast on social networks, “sparked criticism against the governor of Florida,” said the Financial Times. A Republican lawyer, appointed to the Florida Judiciary Committee by Ron DeSantis, resigned to protest what he described “as a gross attempt at intimidation without a legal basis.” Several Hollywood personalities, such as actress Patricia Arquette or actor Edward Norton, have publicly supported Rebekah Jones.
And for a year, Ron DeSantis had not succeeded in getting rid of the cumbersome Rebekah Jones, who continued to manage his Covid-19 monitoring platform, even adding a tool to it to visualize the cases of confirmed contamination in the environment. school. But the decision to have her arrested is a risky bet, as it could spark a new wave of solidarity.