“Outside were more than half a dozen officers in tactical vests brandishing a sledgehammer and automatic weapons. Hands held high, she opened the door…”
A new article includes video of that moment — and describes not only what happened then, but what’s happening now, and what’s going to happen next: It was April 2020 when Rebekah Jones says they first asked her to change the numbers. Then a 30-year-old scientist at the Florida Department of Health (DOH), she’d spent nearly two months building the platform that the state was using to provide daily updates to the press and public on COVID-19, including number of tests, confirmed cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Jones was so proud of the dashboard — which included six maps and covered half a million lines of data — that she monitored it for up to 16 hours a day. But now, a top state official was telling her to change the test positivity rate of certain counties to align with the state’s maximum threshold for reopening, according to Jones… “There were counties that had, like, 18 or 20 percent positivity,” Jones recalls. “And she was like, ‘Well, just change it to 10….'”
At first, she says, she laughed out loud: “I thought it was a joke…. I was fired for refusing to manipulate data to drum up support for the governor’s plan to reopen…”
It was [Governor] DeSantis who brought the fight to her doorstep — figuratively, then literally… The state claims it traced the message to Jones’s IP address. Jones claims they knew her IP address from when she worked from home… “If DeSantis thought pointing a gun at my face was a good way to get me to shut up, he’s about to learn just how wrong he was….”
In January, she was charged with a felony for allegedly accessing the state emergency message system. If convicted, she could face five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. By then, she had moved her family to the D.C. area, in hopes of putting this chapter behind them all and starting over. She had to return to Florida to turn herself in or else risk extradition. She drove the nearly 1,000 mile, two-day journey alone, determined to keep her kids from reexperiencing the trauma of policemen pounding down their door… The morning she was supposed to leave, Jones started feeling unwell… The next day, she finished the drive — “it was a miracle I did not die or kill someone in my car,” she says — and was booked into the Leon County Detention Facility, where she tested positive for COVID-19… She was isolated to keep from exposing other inmates…
[S]he’s still proceeding with a whistleblower complaint against the Florida DOH, which is pending. And she’s still running her own independent Florida COVID-19 dashboard, Florida COVID Action, which she started last June after being fired. She eventually raised more than $500,000 on GoFundMe to help support the site (along with her living expenses). She’s also wrapping up work on The Covid Monitor, a project with the nonprofit FinMango that uses Google tools to help document COVID-19’s spread at schools. The work has helped her survive the longest year of her life (and, quite frankly, many people’s lives)… She’s writing a book about her experience. And although she’d love to get another job working in science, she’s not holding her breath. “I haven’t met a whistleblower who has landed on their feet any time in the immediate aftermath of whistleblowing,” she says wryly.
When asked what she hopes to get out of her lawsuit, she pauses and then says, “An apology. I want a fucking apology.”