The lawsuit suggests that Florida has intentionally withheld coronavirus case information amidst the late-summer surge.
A Florida lawmaker and a nonprofit organization have filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Health, alleging it violated public-records laws by refusing to provide detailed information about the coronavirus pandemic.
According to The Miami Herald, the lawsuit was filed Monday by state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) and the Florida Center for Government Accountability. The lawsuit was filed only after the Florida Department of Health repeatedly refused requests for detailed records.
The Herald notes that Florida provided extensive daily reports on the pandemic through June, showing data on active cases and deaths across the state and at the county level.
However, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, announced that the state would no longer provide regular reports in late June.
Explaining the decision, Deputy Secretary for Health Dr. Shamarial Roberson suggested coronavirus poses less of a threat now that many Florida residents have been vaccinated against it.
“As vaccines have increased, the cases have decreased,” Roberson said in June.
In their complaint, Guillermo Smith and the FCGA say that Gov. DeSantis and the Department of Public Health violated public records statutes, even as the Delta variant caused a substantial spike in deaths and hospitalizations.
WFLA.com observes that the last report—published on June 3rd—showed about 2.3 million total COVID cases registered across the state.
But new data indicates that figure has since ballooned to 3.2 million cases.
“I didn’t want to have to sue the state,” Guillermo Smith said.
“I’m asking for the exact same public health data that used to be available on the COVID daily dashboard reporting,” he added.
His lawsuit alleges that Florida is suppressing desperately-needed information at a time when cases are again on the rebound.
“Due to the highly contagious nature of COVID-19 and its ‘continuing threat’ to Floridians, records revealing information about its impact, prevalence and fatality is of obvious public importance,” the lawsuit states. “Floridians have an immediate need for access to information about the virus and its impact and spread in particular communities. This information is vital to the ability of citizens to understand the risks and make informed decisions about their lives.
“The purpose of this action,” it continues, “is to obtain critical records that the department previously published daily on its website so that the public will have knowledge of and the ability to scrutinize their government’s response to the rampaging virus. This is the paramount goal of open government laws.”
While Florida officials contend that its health department continues to report data to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—which operates its own dashboard-style website—Guillermo Smith said schools and policy-makers need up-to-date, local data to determine and, if necessary, adjust their re-opening plans.