Rebekah Jones helps create dashboard to track COVID-19 in US schools

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10 Tampa Bay WTSP| by Chelsea Tatham, Jennifer Titus, Heather Bailey | August 24, 2020

Rebekah Jones said she was fired by the state of Florida after allegedly being asked to manipulate coronavirus numbers on the Department of Health’s dashboard.

Just a couple of months into the COVID-19 pandemic in Florida, the manager of the state’s data-tracking dashboard was removed.

If you ask the state, data scientist Rebekah Jones was asked to resign due to insubordination. But, Jones maintains that she was fired after being asked to manipulate coronavirus numbers on the Department of Health’s dashboard.

Since being ousted, Jones has created her own dashboard to track COVID-19 data in Florida and in July filed a whistleblower charge of discrimination with the Florida Commission on Human Relations.

Now, she and her COVID Action corporation have partnered with a nonprofit to create a platform to track coronavirus cases in K-12 schools around the United States. In a release, Jones said the partnership also includes collaboration with Google’s COVID-19 Open Data Project.

“There really need to be a national database for schools that does this kind of thing,” Jones said. “And there wasn’t and I saw that as there’s an information gap here. So, let’s fill it.”

Jones said the idea came from someone currently working as a teacher.

“The idea for this project actually came from a Florida teacher who messaged me on Twitter at the end of July saying that she taught during the summer school session and knew of teachers and students who were positive, but she didn’t see anything in local news about it,” Jones said. “And she thought somebody should know.”

Jones said the first thing she did was check and make sure this type of data tracking wasn’t being done on a federal level.

“And, I started looking at individual states and how they were doing it, which is evolving very quickly,” she said. “Just this past weekend, DOH said they’re going to start releasing, you know, by county, students and staff that are public.”

The Department of Health did start releasing reports on COVID-19 cases in Floridians associated with daycares, schools and colleges and universities. 

The report shows data over the last two weeks as well as data from March 1 through today. Between Aug. 10 and Aug. 23, the state said 559 COVID-19 cases related to elementary, middle and high schools were reported statewide. Of those, 205 were students and 342 were staff.

Since March 1, the state reported 1,910 cases related to K-12 schools in Florida. Of those, 362 were students and 1,303 were staff.

While this adds transparency to the state’s data, Jones found it’s not the same across the board when it comes to state-by-state comparisons.

“The way that they collect it is different from the way they report it,” she said. “Mississippi actually has one of the most robust reporting methods internally for case data every single Friday — every single school report on how many positive cases they’ve had or people quarantined. They don’t release that granular data yet.”

Jones hopes the more pressure put on school districts, state and federal leaders will lead to a universal tracking system for COVID-19 cases and schools. Not just on the state level, but a national database. Currently, there isn’t.

Until then you can find her dashboard here.