TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida will have to provide COVID-19 data to the public again after a former Democratic state representative settled a lawsuit with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration over the decision two years ago to stop posting information on the virus’ spread online.
Then-Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith sued after the Department of Health denied his public records request for COVID-19 data in 2021 and announced the settlement Monday. He was joined by the Florida Center for Government Accountability.
The settlement requires the department to provide COVID-19 data to the public for the next three years, including weekly statistics on cases, deaths and vaccinations by county, age group, gender and race, Smith said in a news release. The state must also pay more than $152,000 in legal fees to cover the plaintiffs’ legal costs.
“All Floridians have a constitutional right to public records and the right to receive critical public health data in a timely manner,” Smith said. “The Department lied about the existence of these public records in court and did everything to restrict information and downplay the threat of COVID.”
Florida stopped daily COVID-19 updates on its online dashboard in June 2021, citing a decrease in cases and an increase in vaccinations. Several states later did the same.
The Department of Health admitted no wrongdoing as part of the settlement and said it has always provided the data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department spokesman Jae Williams III criticized Smith and the Florida Center for Government Accountability in an email, saying the lawsuit was a political stunt.
“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,” Williams said.