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Ron DeSantis loses fight to limit COVID data

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis officially lost the fight to limit COVID data on Monday and will now be forced to release the data to the public.

Former State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith first filed the lawsuit in 2021 against the Florida Department of Health and Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo, after the department refused to continue to post data on COVID to their public dashboard under orders from DeSantis. Access to Covid-19 data was restricted after the Republican governor decided to open Florida for business in June 2021 just as the Delta variant spread throughout the state. During the information blackout, thousands of Floridians died from COVID-19 in the summer and early fall of 2021.

In a series of posts shared to X, formerly Twitter, Guillermo Smith stated the win while calling out DeSantis’ decision to restrict information in order to downplay the threat of COVID-19, stating the decision has cost many lives while alleging it also played into the governor’s political agenda.

“After a 2-year battle, the DeSantis administration has agreed to settle my public records lawsuit against them for illegally hiding COVID health data while the Delta variant ripped thru Florida killing 23,000 people. We persisted. We prevailed. We held them accountable,” Guillermo Smith wrote on X.

“The Department LIED about the existence of these public records in court + did everything to restrict information and downplay the threat of COVID in order to fit their political narrative. They did this during the deadliest wave of the pandemic—a decision that cost many lives,” Guillermo Smith added.

The settlement agreement requires the Department to provide detailed COVID-19 data for the next three years, including vaccination counts, case counts, and deaths, aggregated weekly, by county, age group, gender, and race.

While neither the Florida Department of Health nor Ladapo admit any fault, the state has also agreed to pay all legal fees in the case.

Meanwhile, in a statement emailed to Newsweek, Florida Department of Health Press Secretary, James Williams criticized the Florida Center for Government Accountability (FCGA) saying, “The press release from the Florida Center for Government Accountability (FCGA) is simply another political stunt. It is strange to characterize a settlement that ended in a mutual agreement in the matter that FCGA did.   COVID-19 data has been made available through historical Department reports, and the Department has always reported data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is unfortunate that we have continued to waste government resources arguing over the formatting of data with armchair epidemiologists who have zero training or expertise.

“The court did not order the State of Florida to display COVID-19 data. The Department has decided to display data like other diseases that are surveilled (ranging from influenza to stroke to diabetes). COVID-19 data will shift from the previously published Biweekly Reports and now solely be available on Florida CHARTS alongside all other public health data,” Williams added.

“While some individuals may continue to grapple for political relevancy and disregard providing the public with the truth, we will continue serving Floridians by executing our core mission of protecting, promoting, and improving the health of all people in Florida,” Williams said.

Since the pandemic, DeSantis has been an outspoken critic against mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates as he signed legislation in May, codifying permanent coronavirus protections in the state prohibiting vaccine passports, vaccine and mask requirements in all Florida schools and businesses, along with prohibiting employers from hiring or firing based on mRNA jabs.

This comes after his previous legislation in 2021 to protect Florida jobs and parents’ right to make healthcare decisions for their students, banning private employer vaccine mandates and mask mandates across the state.

“Governor DeSantis remains committed to ensuring Covid freedoms are upheld in Florida and will fight against local governments, businesses, and corporations that attempt to impose authoritarian policies surrounding Covid,” a news release on DeSantis’ official website stated.

According to the Florida Department of Health’s latest report on September 28, 91,178 Floridians have died from the coronavirus, with nearly 10,000 new cases every week.

So far, 7,813,431 Floridians have tested positive for the disease, more than a third of the state’s population, according to the report.

“All Floridians have a constitutional right to know, especially when they need to make informed decisions impacting the health and safety of their families. That’s why I filed a lawsuit against @HealthyFla when they refused to comply with my lawful requests for COVID records,” Guillermo Smith wrote on X.

Newsweek has reached out to DeSantis and Guillermo Smith for further comment.

Update 10/09/23 5:10 p.m. ET: This article was updated with comment from James Williams.

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