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Ousted Florida Health data official creates nationwide coronavirus tracking site for schools

Ousted Florida Health data official creates nationwide coronavirus tracking site for schools
Posted at 12:34 PM, Aug 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-24 12:47:03-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As more schools reopen to in-person lessons, Florida's Department of Health, and many other states, are not publishing statewide data on school district COVID-19 cases.

"The Department is continuing to review and determine the most appropriate method for reporting outbreaks in schools," a statement from the Florida department reads.

While officials may yet remedy the absence of school data — one Floridian isn't waiting.

Rebekah Jones, the ousted Florida Health data expert, has partnered with Google and nonprofit FinMango to create a website called The COVID Monitor. It aims to track cases not only in schools here— but across the nation, from kindergarten to college.

"Pretty much everybody was like, 'this doesn't exist … this does not exist,'" Jones said. "I was like, 'OK, let's build it.'"

The site sweeps up COVID-19 data from across the web. Things like press releases, news stories, info from health departments and more. It includes taking anonymous tips from school teachers.

The Monitor team then verifies the details, looking for additional sources or contacting districts, before marking cases confirmed.

"We make sure that we check the information we're putting up there, which is for me, one of the most important elements," Jones said. "I would never want to put out inaccurate information."

Officials terminated Jones from Florida Health after she made allegations the department was misrepresenting data earlier this year in the pandemic. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis later told the press that Jones was fired for insubordination.

"Yeah, it's a non-issue," DeSantis said in June.

Jones has since become a public figure, critical of the state's handling of COVID-19. Her new website, she hopes, will provide clarity at a time when many are seeking answers.

"We want people to know this is a place that they can go to," Jones said. "Letting them say, 'Hey, there is a resource out there for this.'"

This story originally reported by Forrest Saunders on wptv.com.