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Why is Florida so secretive with COVID records? | Editorial
COVID statistics that used to be available are now off limits, says the state Dept. of Health.
A member of an AdventHealth care team prepares medication for a  COVID patient.
A member of an AdventHealth care team prepares medication for a COVID patient.
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Sep. 8

Aside from mismanaging the pandemic, Florida officials have also concealed a true picture of the growing crisis. That’s why a lawsuit filed against the state last week is so critical.

A Democratic state lawmaker and a non-profit group allege the Department of Health has violated public-records laws by refusing to provide detailed data about COVID-19 in Florida. Orlando Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and the Florida Center for Government Accountability filed the lawsuit last Monday after the department denied requests for information. As the outbreak worsened, and schools began to open, the plaintiffs sought to gauge the impact of COVID on local communities, seeking daily case counts and information about hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations.

The department provided “inconsistent” responses to these requests, the lawsuit states, though ultimately officials claimed the records were confidential and exempt from public disclosure. Never mind the state had posted extensive, daily reports of county-specific data until suddenly halting the practice in June, or that the records sought involved aggregate data, not anything that identified individual people.

“This information is vital to the ability of citizens to understand the risks and make informed decisions about their lives,” the lawsuit states, accusing the DeSantis administration of concealing the record to paint “the illusory picture that the virus had been defeated.”

In the week ending Sept. 2, nearly 130,000 news cases were reported in the state, less than the previous week but still unsettlingly close to record highs. Speaking of records, in that same week the state recorded 2,245 deaths, the second consecutive single week high since the start of the pandemic. So far, about 47,000 Floridians have died from COVID. And yet, the state leadership doesn’t want residents to know the details behind those numbers.

Information is power, and Floridians need this data to protect themselves, their families and their communities. This should be an easy call for the courts, and they need to act while it counts.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.