Workers removing a sign from a drive-through COVID-19 testing site in Orlando, Florida, in October 2020.
Enlarge / Staff eradicating an indication from a drive-through COVID-19 testing website in Orlando, Florida, in October 2020.

Police on Monday raided the Florida residence of information scientist Rebekah Jones, who alleged in Could that she was fired from her job collating COVID-19 knowledge for the state as a result of she refused to “manipulate” knowledge to make the governor’s agenda look extra favorable.

“At 8:30 this morning, state police got here into my home and took all my {hardware} and tech,” Jones said in a Twitter thread on Monday afternoon. Her preliminary submit included a 30-second video of armed officers pointing weapons up a staircase and shouting for Jones’ husband and youngsters to come back down earlier than one other officer shouted, “search warrant!” loudly to nobody specifically.

“They pointed a gun in my face. They pointed weapons at my children,” Jones added. “They took my cellphone and the pc I take advantage of every single day to submit the case numbers in Florida, and faculty circumstances for all the nation. They took proof of corruption on the state stage.”

In her messages, Jones explicitly laid the blame for the raid on the toes of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, saying, “This was DeSantis. He despatched the gestapo… that is DeSantis’ Florida.”

The DeSantis administration denied any participation, telling CNN, “the governor’s workplace had no involvement, no information, no nothing, of this investigation.”

Commissioner Rick Swearingen of the Florida Division of Legislation Enforcement confirmed in a written assertion that brokers went to Jones’ residence to serve a search warrant.

“Our investigation started final month following a grievance by Florida Division of Well being that an individual illegally hacked into their emergency alert system,” Swearingen stated. FDLE brokers went to Jones’ home “after figuring out the house was the situation that the unauthorized message was despatched from.”

“After a number of makes an attempt, Ms. Jones allowed brokers inside,” Swearingen added. “Brokers entered the house in accordance with regular protocols and seized a number of units that will probably be forensically analyzed. At no time have been weapons pointed at anybody within the residence. Any proof will probably be referred to the State Lawyer for prosecution as acceptable.”

The message

The Florida Division of Well being stated final month that somebody accessed its emergency communications system to ship an “unauthorized message” to roughly 1,750 members of the state’s emergency response workforce.

The message, based on The Tampa Bay Occasions, advised recipients to “converse up earlier than one other 17,000 persons are useless. You realize that is flawed. You don’t should be part of this. Be a hero. Converse out earlier than it’s too late.” Investigators stated the messages have been despatched from an IP deal with that was related to Jones’ home.

The message in query was despatched from a state account often called ESF-8, which is utilized by “many individuals from a number of companies,” the Tallahassee Democrat reported—and all of these “many individuals” share a single username and password to entry the system. Individuals who have entry however depart these jobs are merely “not licensed to entry the multi-user group.”

Jones repeatedly denied having something to do with the unauthorized textual content. “Hacking will not be one thing I ever thought they might accuse me of as a result of I’ve by no means displayed any functionality of doing that,” she advised the Tampa Bay Occasions. “I’ve by no means taken any pc programs or something like that. I do statistics in a software program program designed mainly to do all that stuff for you by clicking stuff.”

In a CNN interview late Monday, Jones elaborated, “I am not a hacker,” including that neither the tone nor the content material of the message have been one thing she would have despatched.

“I do not suppose they have been after me,” Jones added to CNN’s Chris Cuomo, as a substitute alleging that the DeSantis administration was attempting to ferret out her confidential sources. “They did not take the router in the home, they did not take quite a lot of laptops in the home,” she stated. “They took my cellphone and so they took the pc that I take advantage of to run my firms. And on my cellphone is each communication I’ve ever had with somebody who works on the state who has come to me in confidence and advised me issues that would get them fired or in hassle like this.”

The street from Could

Jones constructed out Florida’s COVID-19 knowledge dashboard and managed it till Could 5, at which level she and her workforce have been abruptly faraway from the venture. In mid-Could, she stated she was not solely taken off the dashboard venture but additionally fired from her job solely as a result of she refused to prepare dinner the numbers to make it seem protected for the state to re-open companies and venues.

Since parting methods with the state, Jones launched her personal unbiased Florida COVID knowledge dashboard and co-founded The COVID Monitor, which tracks outbreaks of the novel coronavirus illness in Ok-12 public faculty districts.

Again in Could, a spokesperson for DeSantis stated that Jones was fired for “a repeated course of insubordination,” describing her as “disruptive.” DeSantis himself stated the allegations of information manipulation have been a “nonissue” and moved ahead with state reopening plans.

Florida entered section 1 of its reopening plan on Could 4, which allowed for eating places and retailers to open at 25-percent capability. Section 2 started on June 5 and allowed for gatherings of as much as 50 individuals and permitted film theaters, bowling alleys, casinos, gyms, bars, pubs, nightclubs, and different venues to function at 50-percent capability. Private care companies, corresponding to nail and hair salons, tattoo parlors, and tanning salons, have been additionally permitted to open at diminished capability.

Identified circumstances of COVID-19 in Florida started to spike shortly after section 1 took impact, based on knowledge compiled by The New York Occasions. Instances peaked in mid-July at a mean of greater than 11,000 new circumstances per day earlier than dropping again under 3,000 per day in September. The information exhibits one other main surge starting in mid-October, shortly after section 3 reopening went into impact, and as of Monday, the state is averaging nearly 9,500 new circumstances per day.

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