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- A data scientist in Florida claims she was fired from her job after refusing to manipulate COVID-19 data to support the state’s plan to reopen.
- According to reports, the official was asked to remove data that reporters had requested to see.
- State officials claim she was fired for being insubordinate and Gov. DeSantis has called her departure a “nonissue.”
Florida Official Speaks Out
The scientist who managed Florida’s official website for public COVID-19 data said Tuesday that she was fired for she refusing to manipulate data to support the state’s broad plans to reopen.
Rebekah Jones, who also designed the state’s coronavirus dashboard, said in an email last Friday that she had been removed from her project.
“I would not expect the new team to continue the same level of accessibility and transparency that I made central to the process during the first two months,” she wrote. “After all, my commitment to both is largely [arguably entirely] the reason I am no longer managing it.”
But on Tuesday, Jones told CBS12 that her removal was “not voluntary.” She claimed she was fired because she was ordered to censor data, but refused to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”
According to emails obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, Jones had “objected to the removal of records showing people had symptoms or positive tests before the cases were announced.”
Department staff had given her the order after that data was requested by reporters, the outlet reported, adding that Jones “complied with the order, but not before she told her supervisors it was the ‘wrong call.’”
The next day, control of the data was taken away from her.
Gov. DeSantis Responds
Shortly after the bombshell accusations broke, a spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statement disputing Jones’ claims.
“Rebekah Jones 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 from the epidemiological team or her supervisors,” the statement said.
“Accuracy and transparency are always indispensable, especially during an unprecedented public health emergency such as COVID-19,” it added. “Having someone disruptive cannot be tolerated during this public pandemic, which led the department to determine that it was best to terminate her employment.”
While speaking at a press conference, DeSantis called Jones’ firing and her accusations a “nonissue.” He also claimed that she had sent an email to her supervisor, but her comments had been misinterpreted.
“I don’t know who she is but they gave me an email that she sent to her supervisor, said that, ‘Uh oh, I may have said something that was misrepresented,’” he said.
Florida’s Data Transparency Issues
This is not the first time Florida has had issues with data reporting and transparency. While DeSantis has repeatedly praised his own administration for its data transparency throughout the pandemic, many have criticized him and the state’s actions.
According to the Miami Herald, state officials have “consistently resisted revealing important data points and public records to the news media and taxpayers, relenting only in the face of lawsuits.”
In fact, DeSantis has previously been accused of hiding and censoring coronavirus information in the past.
He and his administration have repeatedly refused to reveal information about infection and death counts at nursing homes and state prisons, how early cases started appearing in Florida, and most recently, accounts of coronavirus deaths as documented by medical examiners.
Despite serious concerns about transparency and the veracity of the state’s data reporting, DeSantis has repeatedly used that same information to justify broadly reopening the state.
See what others are saying: (CBS12) (The Miami Herald) (The Tampa Bay Times)
Increased COVID-19 Hospitalizations Are Straining Medical Resources in the U.S.
- COVID-19 hospitalizations reached almost 43,000 on Monday, their highest point since August 19. A total of 36 states have seen at least a 5% increase in hospitalizations compared to last week.
- In Utah, ICU occupancy hit nearly 70% and hospitals are prepared to start rationing ICU space this week or next. In El Paso, Texas, occupancy hit 100% and medical workers are taking patients to field or mobile units for care.
- On top of this, some hospitals, including ones in Utah, are understaffed right now. Many hospital staffers are battling physical and emotional exhaustiong from dealing with the pandemic for seven months with no end in sight.
Hospitalizations Go Up
As coronavirus cases inch upwards across the country, hospitalizations are following, setting a trend that worries health experts heading into the winter.
Over the past week, the United States has set its record for the highest single day of cases reported and the highest seven-day average of new cases. Nearly 43,000 hospitalizations were reported on Monday, the highest number since August 19. It is a staggering jump upward from the start of the month when hospitalizations were at 30,700.
CNBC reported that in 36 states, hospitalizations have risen by at least 5% compared to where they were just last week. The caseload is straining hospitals across the country, which are bracing for these spikes to get even worse.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, there has been a 157% increase in hospitalizations in Pennsylvania compared to this time last month. New Jersey has seen a 125% jump while Delaware saw 69% growth.
Hospitals and Local Governments Respond to Increases
In Utah, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, 771 people have been hospitalized for the virus in the past two weeks, the highest number of any 14 day period since the start of the pandemic. There, the ICU occupancy hit 68.9% on Monday and state officials and hospital administrators are prepared to ration ICU space this week or next week. This means some ICU patients whose condition is worsening might be forced out of the unit. Older patients, who are more likely to die, will likely be forced out before younger ones. One doctor said capacity is being assessed “on a minute to minute basis, almost.”
The Texas Tribune reported that there has been a 300% increase in hospitalizations in El Paso over the last three weeks. ICU beds have reached 100% capacity and patients are now being taken to mobile and field units to be cared for. The city has put in place a 10:00 p.m. curfew to curb the spread. City officials are also encouraging citizens to stay home as much as possible over the next two weeks.
Impact on Hospitals and Staff
Experts have long predicted that the virus would pick up in the colder months of the year. With such a steep case increase before winter has even arrived, health officials are worried about this trend. But with all these numbers trending upwards at alarming rates, there are a lot of health officials concerned.
“This is a harbinger of a very tough winter that’s coming. I think hospitals are going to be very, very stressed this fall and winter,” Dr. Bill Schaffner, an epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University told CNBC.
On top of this, hospital staffers are suffering from COVID fatigue. Doctors and nurses have been dealing with the pandemic for the majority of the year with no end in sight. This has led to physical and emotional exhaustion. Some hospitals are also understaffed.
“We’re down 20% to 30%,” Greg Bell, the president of the Utah Hospital Association told the Tribune. “Hundreds and hundreds of nurses are not able to work as they were [before] because of their own disease or infection in the family, or they’re moms and dads with school issues. Some are worn out, some are on leave because they’ve been doing this for seven months.”
See what others are saying: (CNBC) (Salt Lake Tribune) (Vox)
Protests Erupt in Philadelphia After the Fatal Police Shooting of Walter Wallace Jr
- Officers in West Philadelphia repeatedly fired at a Black man who approached them while armed with a knife Monday afternoon. Shortly thereafter, the man was pronounced dead.
- During that incident, multiple witnesses reportedly told police that the man, 27-year-old Walter Wallace Jr., struggled with mental health issues.
- Following Wallace’s death, many people were outraged that police didn’t use more nonlethal tactics to subdue him.
- That outrage prompted a night of protests that became violent, with demonstrators hurling objects at police, police rushing demonstrators with shields and batons, and looters taking advantage of the unrest.
Police Shooting of Walter Wallace Jr.
Protests rocked Philadelphia Monday night following the fatal police shooting of a Black man who had been wielding a knife in the street earlier in the day.
The man has been identified as 27-year-old Walter Wallace Jr. According to his family, he struggled with mental health issues. Because of that, Monday night’s protests were mainly geared toward the fact that officers used lethal force instead of a less-lethal method to subdue him.
The situation began Monday afternoon around 4 p.m. when two still-unnamed officers in West Philadelphia responded to a report of a man wielding a knife in the street. According to police spokesperson Eric Gripp, the two officers ordered Wallace to drop the knife but he refused.
In a video captured at the scene by a witness, Wallace can be seen walking on the street. The two officers have their guns drawn. Meanwhile, a woman later identified as Wallace’s mother appears to be pleading with Wallace as she follows him.
At one point, Wallace raises his hand and approaches the officers, who back away. The video then moves out of view, but multiple shots can be heard. When it swings back into frame, Wallace can be seen falling to the ground. A group of people, including the officers, swarm around him.
“Y’all didn’t have to give him that many fucking shots!” one witness, presumably the person filming, yells at the police.
Following the shooting, one of the officers reportedly drove Wallace to the hospital, where he then died.
Within hours, more details around the incident began to come out. In an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Wallace’s father said his son struggled with mental health issues and that he was on medication.
“Why didn’t they use a Taser?” he said. “His mother was trying to defuse the situation.”
That claim was backed up by a witness who also told The Inquirer that, in the beginning, Wallace was standing on the porch of his home, knife drawn. When police arrived, that witness — Maurice Holloway — said they immediately drew their guns.
From there, Holloway said Wallace started walking down the steps of the porch and into the street. At the same time, Holloway noted that Wallace’s mother was attempting to shield him from the police and tell them that he was her son.
“I’m yelling, ‘Put down the gun, put down the gun,’” Holloway told The Inquirier, “and everyone is saying, ‘Don’t shoot him, he’s gonna put it down, we know him.’”
While Gripp said it was unclear how many times Wallace was shot, Wallace’s father believes he was shot 10 times. The Inquirer currently estimates that the officers could have fired more than a dozen rounds, and the newspaper noted that police later marked the scene with at least 13 evidence markers.
Protests Erupt in Philadelphia
Much like Wallace’s father and Holloway, many were furious that officers repeatedly shot Wallace, arguing that they could have subdued him with much less-lethal force.
Arnett Woodall, a community organizer who lives a several blocks away, told The Inquirer that the number of evidence markers at the scene showed this was “a textbook example of excessive force.”
“Why not a warning shot?” Woodall asked. “Why not a Taser? Why not a shot in the leg?”
Reggie Shuford, executive director of the Pennsylvania ACLU, said in statement that Wallace’s death proves the need for more mental health initiatives.
“It is time to divest in police and invest in community programs, including the kind of mental health services that allow intervention that may have prevented Mr. Wallace’s killing,” he said.
According to reports, more than 300 protesters gathered on the streets of Philadelphia Monday night, many of them chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “Say his name: Walter Wallace.”
Those protesters originally marched to a police station, where they met officers in riot gear. Officers then pushed the crowd back with shields before rushing them and beating some people with batons.
Some people also engaged in violent tactics by throwing objects at the officers. Others started multiple fires, including one situation where a police vehicle was set on fire. At least five more police vehicles were vandalized over the course of the night.
As the night went on, looters capitalized on the unrest, breaking into multiple businesses. Police later said they ultimately arrested around 30 people for throwing objects or looting — including some in areas not near the protest.
According to local outlets, at least 30 Philly police officers were hospitalized with various injuries Tuesday morning, though all but one have since been treated and released. The lone remaining officer is a 56-year-old female sergeant who suffered a broken leg after being hit by a black pickup truck during the night.
Alongside these protests, John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, has stood by the two officers involved in the incident.
“Our police officers are being vilified this evening for doing their job and keeping the community safe, after being confronted by a man with a knife,” he said. “We support and defend these officers, as they too are traumatized by being involved in a fatal shooting.”
Several Philadelphia officials have called for a full investigation into the shooting, including Mayor Jim Kenney who said in a statement, “My prayers are with the family and friends of Walter Wallace. I have watched the video of this tragic incident and it presents difficult questions that must be answered.”
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw has announced an investigation into the shooting by the Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Unit. While that investigation is ongoing, both officers have been pulled from street-duty. Reportedly, both officers had their body cams turned on, and that footage will play a role in the investigation.
“I recognize that the video of the incident raises many questions,” Outlaw said in a statement. “Residents have my assurance that those questions will be fully addressed by the investigation. While at the scene this evening, I heard and felt the anger of the community. Everyone involved will forever be impacted.”
Outlaw also noted that she plans to meet with members of the community, as well as Wallace’s family, “to hear their concerns.”
While this investigation is underway, Philly District Attorney Larry Krasner has called for an end to the violence.
“In the hours and days following this shooting, we ask Philadelphians to come together to uphold people’s freedom to express themselves peacefully and to reject violence of any kind,” he said.
See what others are saying: (The Philadelphia Inquirer) (WCAU) (The Washington Post)
Coronavirus Cases Surge in the US, Shattering Records
- The United States hit its highest seven day average of coronavirus cases on Sunday, reaching a 68,787 case average, according to Johns Hopkins. This is over 1,000 cases higher than the previous record which was hit in July.
- Also this weekend, over 83,000 cases were reported on Friday and Saturday, marking the two highest single day case counts in the country.
- Some state and local governments are issuing curfews or other restrictions to slow the spread of the virus. Federal health leaders, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb are calling for a mask mandate throughout the country.
Cases in the U.S. Surge
As coronavirus cases surge across the United States, the country hit its highest seven-day average of cases reported since the start of the deadly pandemic.
According to Johns Hopkins, that average hit 68,787 cases on Sunday. The previous high was a 67,293 average at the end of July. This follows a weekend of record-breaking reports. The two highest single day case counts were reached on Friday and Saturday, with over 83,000 new cases reported each day.
As cases spike, it is unlikely that the entire country will face full lockdowns similar to the ones ordered in March, but some local leaders are taking smaller steps to curb the spread. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced new COVID-19 restrictions on Friday that include curfews for certain businesses and safety rules for dining.
“Please be extremely conservative in deciding how much time to spend outside of the home,” Grisham wrote when announcing the new mitigation strategies. “The visit to friends or family can wait – it’s not worth your life, or theirs.”
Some local leaders are taking stronger approaches. In South Dakota, the Ogala Sioux Tribe mandated a seven-day lockdown that started Friday as a result of a spike on their reservation. In El Paso, Texas, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego ordered a 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. curfew throughout the county as hospitalizations trend upwards.
Federal Leaders Call For Mask Mandate
Some believe that in addition to local restrictions, more should be done on a federal level to curb the spread of the virus. Specifically, many think the country should mandate mask-wearing in public.
On Sunday, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal arguing that as winter approaches, a mask mandate could save lives.
“It will be essential to use standard interventions, including limits on crowded settings such as bars and continuing to test and trace contacts,” Gottlieb wrote. “But on the current trajectory these measures won’t be enough to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed in some areas.”
“Masks would help,” he added. “As a practical matter, it’s easier to wear a mask in the winter than the summer. A mandate can be expressly limited to the next two months. The inconvenience would allow the country to preserve health-care capacity and keep more schools and businesses open.”
While President Donald Trump has repeatedly mocked the use of masks in the past, his opponent former Vice President Joe Biden has advocated for a mandate. On Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases echoed his support for a mandate on CNN.
“If everyone agrees that this is something that’s important and they mandated it, and everyone pulls together and says ‘you know we’re going to mandate it, but let’s just do it,’ I think that would be a great idea to have everyone do it uniformly,” he said.
“Though I get the issue of, if you mandate a mask then you’re going to have to enforce it, which will create more of a problem. Well, if people are not wearing masks, then maybe we should be mandating it.”