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WGCU’s Gulf Coast Life Latest Episode: Florida Dept. of Health ordered to release COVID-19 data after a two-year legal battle

Interview by John Davis

The Florida Department of Health is now required to release COVID-19 data the state agency withheld from the public during the height of the pandemic.

Release of the data is part of a settlement reached following a two-year legal battle during which former state Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith and the Florida Center for Government Accountability sought release of the information through the state’s public records law.

Smith’s initial request for the data came while he was serving on the House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee.

Governor Ron DeSantis’ administration restricted the release of COVID-19 data in June 2021 as DeSantis opened Florida for business and as the Delta variant was spreading through the state. The settlement requires the Florida Department of Health to provide detailed COVID-19 data for the next three years and to pay for more than $150,000 dollars in plaintiff’s legal fees.

The Department of Health admitted no wrongdoing as part of the settlement and Department spokesman Jae Williams III has characterized the legal challenge as a political stunt. In a statement, Florida Center for Government Accountability Director of Public Access Initiatives Michael Barfield said, “The Department hid public records during the height of the pandemic to fit a political narrative that Florida was open for business.”

We take a closer look at the settlement and its impacts going forward in a conversation with Barfield and Smith.

Listen to Complete Episode Here