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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Major newspapers join Orlando legislator's lawsuit against state of Florida over COVID-19 data

Posted By on Tue, Sep 21, 2021 at 11:48 AM

  • Screenshot via Florida's Community Coronavirus Dashboard

Circuit Court Judge John Cooper ruled on Monday to allow national media outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post and Associated Press to join an ongoing lawsuit against the state of Florida over its COVID-19 data.

Orlando legislator Carlos Guillermo Smith filed suit against the state after they discontinued their live dashboard of coronavirus data this summer. The state Department of Health switched to a weekly report that provides less specific information, removing metrics like cases in care facilities and prisons.

Cooper's ruling allowed news outlets to weigh in on Smith's side as his case continues against the Florida Department of Health. FDOH counsel Rick Figlio argued that the agency was within their rights to keep certain data to themselves.

"It's all confidential and exempt info unless the department determines that it's not," Figlio said, per WESH.

Smith countered that the information was previously offered to the public without incident. He also noted that the data was pulled just as the pandemic reached its worst level seen so far, while Governor Ron DeSantis was pushing a narrative of a reopened and safe Florida.

“Isn’t that convenient?” Smith said, according to the Orlando Sentinel. “The state is saying we’re the ones that get to decide if public information is public. ... The reality is that they made this COVID data available every day for over a year on the public dashboard — and then decided that right now those same records should not be available to Floridians even though the delta variant made COVID-19 worse in the last three months than at any point previously in the pandemic.”

Cooper is moving forward with the case before the month is out, denying a request to postpone arguments by Figlio. Like his recent ruling in the state's ongoing fight against mask mandates in schools, Cooper pointed to the laws on the books that claim the case must be heard as soon as possible.

“I didn’t draft the statute," he said during the hearing. "I don’t know why people have a hard time understanding that statutes are supposed to be enforced.”

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