ORLANDO, Fla. — Standing next to Vice President Mike Pence in Orlando Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Ron DeSantis attempted to clear the record in Florida but not without tearing into one of the state's Department of Health employees -- Rebekah Jones.
Jones is the health department analyst who made headlines earlier this week after she claimed she was removed from her position crunching COVID case data after she objected to censoring the numbers.
“She is not an epidemiologist, she is not the chief architect of our web portal that is another false statement,” Gov. DeSantis said. “She’s not a data scientist. She’s somebody that got a degree in journalism communication and geography. She is not involved in collating any data, she does not have the expertise to do that."
In an online article at her alma mater, Syracuse University, Jones described herself as the architect behind the COVID-19 dashboard which has been widely praised for its in-depth analysis of COVID-19 cases in the state.
Florida Senator Janet Cruz, a Democrat from Tampa, called out the governor’s attack.
“Working toward a character assassination against the woman, that’s the new normal isn’t it?” said Cruz. “If someone blows a whistle or talks about an injustice, then attack the individual rather than face head-on the issues,” Cruz said.
Cruz is joining other state and federal lawmakers who want the state’s chief inspector general to investigate Florida’s Department of Health and if the department removed Jones after, reportedly, voicing her objections to manipulating COVID-19 case data to make the state look safer to reopen.
Jones has not responded to our calls and emails.
Cruz said she also has not spoken to Jones. According to her resume online, Jones started working for the department in 2018. She’s also served as a professor at Florida State University.
In an email sent out to the media on Tuesday, the governor's press secretary, Helen Ferre, stated that Jones’ removal comes after she “exhibited a repeated course of insubordination during her time with the department, including her unilateral decisions to modify the department’s COVID-19 dashboard without input or approval."
“So her supervisor dismissed her because a lot of those reasons and it was a totally valid way, but she should’ve been dismissed long before that,” said DeSantis, who also revealed during the press briefing on Jones’ unrelated but active criminal case in her past.
According to court records, Jones was charged with cyberstalking a former flame in 2019. According to court records, Jones started a relationship with a student in 2017 while she was teaching at Florida State University. That relationship resulted in several criminal charges but no convictions.
“So I’ve asked the Department of Health to explain to me how someone would be allowed to be charged with that and continue because this was many months ago. I have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment,” DeSantis said.
Jones has until 5 p.m. Thursday to resign or she’ll be terminated.