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Florida removes data scientist who claims she refused to manipulate COVID-19 numbers to support reopening

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The architect and manager of Florida’s coronavirus dashboard says she has been removed from her post because she refused to manipulate data.

The online dashboard has been a valuable resource for researchers, reporters and the public to access and review COVID-19 cases, testing and death data, and had won wide praise for its transparency and accessibility, reported Florida Today.

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However, the site has crashed and gone offline in recent weeks, data has disappeared without explanation — and Rebekah Jones, who led a team of Florida Department of Health data scientists and public health officers to set up the site, announced her removal as of May 5.

“I understand, appreciate, and even share your concern about all the dramatic changes that have occurred and those that are yet to come,” Jones wrote her colleagues in an email.

“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,” she added. “After all, my commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it.”

Jones confirmed to WPEC-TV that she was removed because she was ordered to censor some data, but she refused to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”

The state’s Department of Health declined to comment, but researchers blasted the move as an example of government censorship.

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“We would not accept this lack of transparency for any other natural disaster, so why are we willing to accept it here?” said Jennifer Larsen, a researcher at the University of Central Florida’s LabX.

Data access has not worsened since Jones was removed, according to researchers, but they worry that the data will become less available.

“They are pretending that public health is what has damaged (the) economy,” said Asal Johnson, an assistant professor of Public Health at Stetson University. “They are getting it wrong; the economy is damaged because we ignored evidence to protect public health.

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“They think they can save their own political interest by restricting information,” she added.

The situation was even more dangerous now that Florida has already reopened, researchers said.

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“The virus doesn’t really give a damn if you hide its numbers,” said Jennifer Larsen, a researcher at the University of Central Florida’s LabX.


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Texas conservatives lose their minds after GOP Gov. Greg Abbott mandates masks in public

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Texas' Republican Gov. Gregg Abbott finally acknowledged that there is a serious problem as COVID-19 takes down the state's population.

It was just a few months ago that municipalities were deciding for themselves when and if they would reopen. But Abbott shut it down, saying that his orders "overrule any local jurisdiction."

In April, "Abbott and the state’s other Republican leaders have blasted local officials in Dallas and Houston for what they called overzealous enforcement of COVID-19 regulations, first zeroing in on Democratically led Harris County’s decision to fine residents for not wearing face masks, a penalty Abbott banned in his April 27 reopening order," ProPublica reported. "The fights came to a head this month with the arrest of a Dallas hair salon owner who refused to shutter her business, an act of defiance that was supported by a right-wing group that launched a GoFundMe campaign a day before she reopened that raised $500,000 before it was disabled."

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Unemployment may not return to pre-COVID levels for a decade: Congressional Budget Office

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On Thursday, Politico reported that it could take a decade for unemployment levels to return to where they were before the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

"The economic outlook for the next 10 years has 'deteriorated significantly' since the independent budget agency issued its last complete set of projections in January, CBO noted," reported Caitlan Emma. "That illustrates the devastating effects of the pandemic and underscores the reality of a slower economic recovery than the 'rocket ship' rebound predicted by President Donald Trump."

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Fired SDNY prosecutor to testify before House Judiciary Committee — behind closed doors: report

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The former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York will testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, according to multiple reports.

Geoffrey Berman will testify after the bizarre sequence of events that preceded his ouster from the office. AG Bill Barr announced that Berman was resigning, with the SDNY denied. He was then fired by President Donald Trump.

NEW: Fired US Attorney for SDNY Geoffrey Berman will appear next week before House Judiciary behind closed doors next Thursday, according to a congressional aide

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