Records Lawsuit Targets Florida Over COVID-19 Data

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – A Democratic authorities lawmaker and a non-profit radical person filed a suit alleging the Florida Department of Health has violated public-records laws by refusing to supply elaborate information astir the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, and the Florida Center for Government Accountability filed the suit precocious Monday successful Leon County circuit court, aft the section rebuffed requests for information.

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The authorities until aboriginal June posted connected its website regular reports that provided extended information astir issues specified arsenic cases and deaths, with accusation besides breached down by county. But Gov. Ron DeSantis’ medication halted the regular reports successful June and shifted to posting play accusation that is acold little detailed.

The suit alleges that the Department of Health and Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, the department’s secretary, person violated public-records laws astatine a clip erstwhile the delta variant of the coronavirus has caused cases, hospitalizations and deaths to surge successful Florida.

“Due to the highly contagious quality of COVID-19 and its ‘continuing threat’ to Floridians, records revealing accusation astir its impact, prevalence and fatality is of evident nationalist importance,” the suit said. “Floridians person an contiguous request for entree to accusation astir the microorganism and its interaction and dispersed successful peculiar communities. This accusation is captious to the quality of citizens to recognize the risks and marque informed decisions astir their lives. The intent of this enactment is to get captious records that the section antecedently published regular connected its website truthful that the nationalist volition person cognition of and the quality to scrutinize their government’s effect to the rampaging virus. This is the paramount extremity of unfastened authorities laws.”

Smith submitted a written petition July 23 to the Orange County Health Department for regular accusation astir COVID-19 cases, positivity rates, hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations.

Drew Love, legislative manager for the Florida Department of Health, responded Aug. 9 and said the accusation Smith had requested was “considered confidential and exempt from nationalist disclosure” nether a authorities instrumentality and authorities rules, according to an email from Love included successful the lawsuit.

The Tallahassee-based Florida Center for Government Accountability, which focuses connected enforcing public-records laws, filed a petition Aug. 16 with the Department of Health seeking regular COVID-19 information betwixt July 9 and Aug. 15 for each region successful the state. It requested regular lawsuit counts and positivity rates and accusation astir hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations.

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Kendra Washington, a nationalist records manager successful the Department of Health’s Office of General Counsel, responded Aug. 20 and said the requested accusation was “considered confidential and exempt from nationalist disclosure” nether authorities instrumentality and rules, according to an email from Washington included successful the lawsuit.

The suit disputed that the requested records are exempt from nationalist release. The records bash not see accusation identifying idiosyncratic patients.

“The section antecedently released and published connected a regular ground the precise accusation sought by plaintiffs,” the suit said. “Additionally, the section and politician person recognized that the request for the nationalist to beryllium informed astir the virus’ dispersed is captious to ensuring nationalist assurance successful COVID-19 mitigation strategies.”

Some regular accusation astir Florida, including lawsuit numbers, deaths and hospitalizations, are posted online by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But that accusation does not supply the aforesaid elaborate information that the Florida Department of Health provided earlier scaling backmost to play reports.

In June, DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw told The News Service of Florida that determination wasn’t a request to proceed publishing regular reports. At the time, Florida had seen a diminution successful cases, with the delta-fueled surge hitting the authorities successful July.

“COVID-19 cases person importantly decreased implicit the past twelvemonth arsenic we person a little than 5% positivity rate, and our authorities is returning to normal, with vaccines wide disposable passim Florida,” Pushaw said successful a June email.

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(©2021 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This worldly whitethorn not beryllium published, broadcast, rewritten, oregon redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders contributed to this report.)

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