Florida has to stop hiding its COVID data, a court ruled this week.
In a blow to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ coronavirus narrative, a Leon County circuit court ruled the state’s Department of Health must release its backlogged COVID-19 data and provide detailed figures going forward for the next three years.
Announced by former representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, the settlement calls for DOH to release vaccine amounts, case counts and deaths. Smith joined the Florida Center for Government Accountability, the First Amendment Foundation and eight media organizations as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
He hailed the decision as a victory for public records requests.
“We persisted. We prevailed. We held them accountable,” Smith posted on X (formerly Twitter).
As part of the agreement, the DOH was ordered to pay the suit’s attorneys fees, which totaled $152,500.
The court battle took two years. Smith said health officials, under the direction of Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, downplayed the pandemic and suppressed case numbers during the deadly Delta variant stage.
On the campaign trail, DeSantis often touts Florida’s “open for business” response to the pandemic. He speaks proudly of the state’s refusal to declare mask or vaccine mandates.
A DOH spokesperson noted the settlement contained no admission of wrongdoing by the state.