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Iowa fires longtime health spokesperson — then funnels media requests on COVID-19 through GOP governor

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Kim Reynolds meets with Donald Trump and Mike Pence in the White House Oval Office (Facebook)

A Florida data scientist sounded the alarm in June that the coronavirus cases in the state weren’t reported accurately. According to Rebekah Jones, she was fired from the Florida Health Department because she refused to manipulate data. Now it appears an Iowa official is accusing the state of doing the same.

“I was asked by DOH leadership to manually change numbers,” Jones told NPR in an interview. “This was a week before the reopening plan officially kicked off into phase one. I was asked to do the analysis and present the findings about which counties met the criteria for reopening. The criteria followed more or less the White House panel’s recommendations, but our epidemiology team also contributed to that as well. As soon as I presented the results, they were essentially the opposite of what they had anticipated. The whole day while we’re having this kind of back and forth changing this, not showing that, the plan was being printed and stapled right in front of me. So it was very clear at that point that the science behind the supposedly science-driven plan didn’t matter because the plan was already made.”

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According to the Des Moines Register a longtime spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Public Health was fired on Wednesday, and she said it was due to her aggressive approach to sharing numbers with the media.

“Polly Carver-Kimm said that also may be why she was removed in March from the department’s team responding to the coronavirus pandemic,” the Register reported on Thursday.

“I am embarrassed and saddened by the way the media has been treated during COVID. You are not receiving timely answers and you are getting scripted talking points when you do get an answer,” she said in an email to the paper.

After working in the job for 12 years, Carver-Kimm said she got a call from the department’s director saying she could resign or be fired. He claimed the position was being eliminated, but she thinks that she was ousted due to her work fulfilling requests for updated numbers on the coronavirus.

“I tried really hard to be as open as we legally can be,” she said.

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According to the Register, Carver-Kimm said that in late March, she was told she would be shifted from handling media inquiries to helping county health departments inform the public about the virus. She was then removed from that responsibility too, she said.

While she respects her colleagues at the health department, she said it had been completely taken over by Gov. Kim Reynolds. All health department media inquiries are now funneled through the governor’s office.

“I have never had something like that happen before in any of the administrations I’ve worked for,” Carver-Kimm said.

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While she maintains, “I’ll be fine,” the question remains, why are such inquiries going through a political office instead of longtime government health experts?

Read the full report at the Des Moines Register.

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