Florida COVID data critical can stay in House race for now

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A former state Department of Health employee who gained national attention for questioning the numbers in Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard can remain a candidate for now in the race to be the Democratic challenger to Republican US Rep. Matt Gaetz.

A state appellate court on Friday put on hold, pending further review, a lower court’s ruling against Rebekah Jones that would have prevented her from running for the Democratic nomination for the congressional seat in the Florida Panhandle.

The lower court had agreed with arguments from a rival for the nomination that Jones had not met a legal requirement of being a registered Democrat for 365 days before qualifying. Jones could still be disqualified with an adverse ruling from Florida’s First District Court of Appeal.

Jones is facing Peggy Schiller in the race to be the Democratic nominee in the heavily Republican district that covers Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties.

Jones received national attention when she raised questions about the state’s COVID-19 dashboard and claimed she was fired for exposing problems. The state said she was fired for insubordination after being reprimanded several times.

A state investigator’s report released in May concluded there was nothing to indicate that the Florida Department of Health had told Jones to falsify COVID-19 data and she wasn’t fired out of retaliation. The inspector general’s 268-page report found no evidence of wrongdoing or retaliation by the department.

Jones is facing criminal charges after authorities said she illegally accessed the Department of Health’s computer system to send a message to 1,750 people and downloaded confidential data and saved it to her devices.

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