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Florida Center for Government Accountability joins with Florida representative, suing state health department to compel release of COVID-19 data

FLCGA Research Assistant CD Davidson-Hiers

The Florida Center for Government Accountability has joined Florida Rep. Carlos G. Smith (D-Orlando) in suing the Florida Department of Health and Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees over the state’s refusal to release COVID-19 information believed vital to the public’s safety.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 30, immediately attracted coverage from state and national news outlets. Florida Politics, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, MSN, and Newsweek all ran stories on the subject.

The Orlando Sentinel’s editorial board also wrote a piece applauding Smith’s and the FLCGA’s actions.

Rep. Smith filed his public records request in late July, requesting information on how the virus is affecting people of different ethnicities, races, sexes and ages in Orange County. He also asked for the updated numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Orange County, including hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations. The FLCGA re-submitted this request to include all counties in Florida.

The health department previously reported all of this information in daily updates through June, and publicized details about confirmed COVID-19 case numbers, deaths, and vaccinations recorded by each of Florida’s 67 counties in county-specific reports. The information was available on the agency’s website.

Florida officials said the agency stopped issuing the daily reports in June because COVID-19 cases had declined significantly.

This information was routinely used by the public as well as public agencies, such as school districts and county commissions, to make local decisions about public safety related to the virus. 

In response to the public records requests from Smith and the FLCGA, the department said the information was considered confidential.

“Providing citizens with more information about the rampaging virus is not only consistent with public health, but with the reasons why Floridians overwhelmingly passed open government laws,” Michael Barfield said, director of public access at FLCGA. “Virus politics should not dictate what information is made available to citizens so they can then make informed choices about their activities.”

The lawsuit demands the state health department publicize the information the department previously released about COVID-19 in Florida, including county-specific information and sociographic data on the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Attorneys Andrea Flynn Mogensen, Victor Chapman and Steven Ruta with the FLCGA filed the lawsuit in Leon County circuit court, seeking an immediate hearing.

Second Judicial Circuit Judge John Cooper has been assigned to oversee the lawsuit. He is the same judge who invalidated Gov. Ron DeSantis’ school mask rules ban, as numerous news outlets have reported.

A copy of the complaint may be found here.