Driving to lunch on Wednesday, I turned on South Florida’s public radio station, WLRN. (My family is living in Boca Raton this summer.) The host was interviewing Rebekah Jones, the data scientist who was fired by the Florida Department of Health in mid-May.

Jones had built the department’s coronavirus dashboard, which had been praised for its transparency by no less an authority than U.S. pandemic coordinator Deborah Birx. But as time went on, she became concerned with some of the requests made by her superiors.

As she described it in the radio interview, in late April, with most of the state preparing to reopen, she refused to comply with a demand to manipulate data that would make it appear as though certain counties were closer to meeting key reopening benchmarks than they truly were. (The health department says she was dismissed for “repeated acts of insubordination.”)

After her firing, she says, her husband told her, “What did it change? ... They’re still lying to people.” Thus motivated, Jones started a GoFundMe campaign that raised $170,000 and used the money to build an alternative to Florida’s dashboard. She began posting data a few weeks ago.

Jones’s dismissal and her new dashboard have received a lot of media attention. Her new creation is a marvel, with granular data that is plainly better than the state’s effort.

But that’s not the only reason reporters came knocking on her door. Ever since a handful of Republican governors started reopening their states in early May, critics have crafted a narrative that these governors were acting recklessly by reopening too early. They cared more about pleasing President Donald Trump—who had urged states to reopen—than protecting their citizens from a deadly virus, or so the thesis went.

Jones’s allegation fit right into that narrative. The idea that the state health department was manipulating data to shade reality was all too believable. Wasn’t this exactly the kind of thing a Trump-loving governor like Florida’s Ron DeSantis would do? Of course it was!

In late May, the Daily Beast reported that a conspiracy theory had developed on the left: “Florida is deliberately trying to undercount coronavirus fatalities by labeling them as something else.” Although the DeSantis administration has vehemently denied this, the governor has a knack for making things worse. Just the other day, he changed the way Florida counts available intensive care beds to include not just current ICU availability but also beds that could be converted into ICU units if necessary. His critics leaped on this change as yet another example of his willingness to cook the books.

Most of Florida entered Phase 2 of its reopening in mid-May. Stores, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and bars all opened their doors again—at 50% capacity—after barely a month of lockdown. Tattoo parlors, too. Groups could congregate as long as there were fewer than 50 people. Masks were recommended but not required.

And sure enough—just as the critics had predicted—the number of positive cases started to rise again. Indeed, over the last few weeks, they have climbed rapidly in all the states that opened early. On Thursday, Texas paused its reopening as its hospitals worried about having enough beds for virus patients. But because of DeSantis’s combative tone—and his insistence that Florida’s model for fighting the pandemic was superior to that of blue states like New York—he came in for special opprobrium.

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