The lawsuit suggests Florida purposely withheld information on coronavirus cases amid the late summer surge.
A Florida lawmaker and nonprofit have filed a lawsuit against the state’s Department of Health alleging it violated public record laws by refusing to provide detailed information about the coronavirus pandemic.
According to The Miami Herald, the lawsuit was filed on Monday by State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) and the Florida Center for Government Accountability. The lawsuit was only brought after the Florida Department of Health repeatedly denied requests for detailed records.
The Herald notes that Florida provided full daily reports of the pandemic through June, showing data on active cases and deaths across the state and at the county level.
However, Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, announced that the state would stop submitting regular reports in late June.
To explain the decision, the Deputy Minister of Health, Dr. Shamarial Roberson suggests that coronavirus is less of a threat now that many Florida residents have been vaccinated against it.
“As vaccines have increased, cases have decreased,” Roberson said in June.
Former Congressman Ron DeSantis in 2017. Image via Flickr / User: Gage Skidmore (CCA-BY-2.0).
In their complaint, Guillermo Smith and the FCGA say Governor DeSantis and the Department of Health violated the statutes of public records, even though the Delta variant caused a significant increase in deaths and hospital admissions.
WFLA.com notes that the latest report – released June 3 – recorded a total of approximately 2.3 million COVID cases across the state.
However, new data shows that number has since increased to 3.2 million cases.
“I didn’t want to have to sue the state,” said Guillermo Smith.
“I am asking for the exact same public health data that was previously available in the daily COVID dashboard reports,” he added.
His lawsuit alleges Florida is suppressing much-needed information at a time when cases are on the rise again.
“Due to the highly contagious nature of COVID-19 and its ‘ongoing threat’ to Florida, records containing information about its impact, prevalence and deaths are of obvious public concern,” the lawsuit said. “Floriders desperately need access to information about the virus and its effects and spread in certain communities. This information is critical to citizens’ ability to understand the risks and make informed decisions about their lives.
“The purpose of this action,” it said, “is to obtain critical records previously published daily on its website by the department so that the public can understand and review their government’s response to the rioting virus. This is the ultimate goal of open government laws. “
While Florida officials claim that its Department of Health continues to report data to the Federal Disease Control and Prevention Centers, which have their own dashboard-style website, Guillermo Smith said schools and policymakers need up-to-date, local data to do so to determine and, if necessary, adjust their reopening plans.
Lawsuit filed in Florida to return daily COVID-19 reports
Public records lawsuit targets Florida Department of Health over daily COVID-19 data