Rebekah Jones Wiki – Biography
Rebekah Jones, the former Florida Department of Health data scientist who built her own COVID-19 dashboard, said she will keep the independent website up and running as long as she can afford to.
In late May, Jones said she was fired after she refused to manipulate data in the state’s dashboard to make the case for reopening Florida’s economy. Then, Jones raised more than $170,000 on GoFundMe to launch her own COVID-19 data dashboard.
Jones spoke with WMFE’s Matthew Peddie on Intersection. She said she’s been talking with other state health departments about using data to decide where to distribute a vaccine when it becomes available.
“We know we’re initially going to have a limited supply, and we need to maximize the effectiveness,” Jones said. “So how many vaccines to send and where to create the biggest impact in preventing the spread. So I’ve been in discussions with other states as well.”
“More people are gonna die,” Rebekah Jones wrote to her mother and sisters on Facebook. It was April 26, a warm spring Sunday in Tallahassee, Fla., and she was just finishing work at the Florida Department of Health, where she was managing the state’s much-praised coronavirus dashboard, which she had also created.
“I feel sick,” the 30-year-old doctoral student continued.
The exchange marked the beginning of an exceptionally turbulent period for Jones, who was demonized by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a rogue employee while also being celebrated by his detractors as a brave truth-teller willing to stand up to political power.
In a whistleblower complaint Jones filed last Thursday with the Florida Commission on Human Relations, her attorneys alleged that she was fired by the state’s Department of Health for “refusing to publish misleading health data.”
DeSantis’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
“We wanted to be wrong,” Jones told Yahoo News. “What we’re seeing right now is actually far worse than what we anticipated.” Back in May, DeSantis’s combative press secretary dismissed as “alarmist” new projections showing the state suffering 4,000 mortalities from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Florida now has more than 5,000 coronavirus fatalities.
Rebekah Jones Age
Rebekah Jones’s age is unclear.
On Jan. 23, long before most Americans were even aware that a new virus was spreading from China, Johns Hopkins University announced the launch of a coronavirus dashboard that had been created by Lauren Gardner, a young civil engineer.
“This is something I think we should watch,” Jones told superiors at the state health department on Jan. 24. At the time, she was head of the department’s geographic information system division, which mapped how hurricanes like Michael battered the state.
Jones, who had been a journalism student at Syracuse University in New York and then studied climate science at Louisiana State and, later, Florida State, had joined the state health department in 2018 while still pursuing her doctorate in geography. As the coronavirus spread from China to Europe and the Middle East, Jones pestered her superiors to be allowed to create a Johns Hopkins-like portal for the state. She says they told her it wasn’t necessary, as it would only frighten people.
Finally, on March 12, she got a call from Carina Blackmore, the head of the health department’s infectious disease division.
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“They wanted a dashboard, and they wanted it up today,” Jones says Blackmore told her. The task would have been impossible, except Jones had prepared mock-ups of the dashboard. “I had it up in two hours.” (Blackmore declined to speak to Yahoo News for this article, as did all other health department officials contacted.)
Software engineer Olivier Lacan, who lives in Orlando and volunteers for the COVID Tracking Project, remembers when he first encountered Jones’s creation, only to be astonished by the ease with which it allowed him to access information about the coronavirus. “It really felt like plugging into ‘The Matrix’ in some ways,” Lacan says. He remembers thinking, “I can’t believe I have access to this.”
Lacan says Florida stood out, for once not as the butt of jokes but as an example of getting it right. “Everyone had data. It was just a question of how much of a mess it was,” he told Yahoo News. “California was a tragedy for months.”
Others noticed too, including Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force. “That’s the kind of knowledge and power we need to put into the hands of American people,” she said of the Florida dashboard on “Face the Nation” on April 19, “so that they can see where the virus is, where the cases are, and make decisions.”
Fired From Job
This time Jones complied. An hour later, however, after the site malfunctioned, Jones says Blackmore asked her to restore the data. Still, the damage was done, in her view, both to the integrity of the dashboard and to her standing with her bosses.
On May 5, Jones was pulled off the dashboard she created. She says she now watched as the work was “not just undone but destroyed.” The dashboard first crashed on May 7, and for several days after that. Jones says Curry asked her to repair it.
“I’m thinking about filing a whistleblower complaint about how I’m being treated, the dashboard mess, etc., for gross mismanagement,” she wrote to Curry on May 14. They met in his office the next day; she says he urged her not to file such a complaint.
She didn’t, but wrote to her mailing list — which included researchers and members of the media — detailing her concerns with how the dashboard was being run. “As a word of caution, I would not expect the new team to continue the same level of accessibility and transparency that I made central to the process during the first two months,” Jones wrote, doing little to hide her bitterness. “They are making a lot of changes. I would advise being diligent in your respective uses of this data.”
The following Monday she was fired from her job.