As first appeared in NewsBreak
By Aron Solomon
Florida has settled a lawsuit over COVID-19 data and agreed to provide weekly statistics to the public.
The lawsuit was filed by former Democratic state representative Carlos Guillermo Smith in 2021 after the Department of Health twice rejected his request for detailed data related to COVID-19. The settlement requires Florida to release COVID-19 data “for at least the next 36 months” and includes daily vaccination and case counts, as well as weekly death reports.
The legal issues involved in this case revolve around the state’s obligation to provide public records under Florida’s Sunshine laws and the original decision by Governor Ron DeSantis to stop providing these statistics.
As Florida lawyer John Lawlor commented,
“The reasoning behind the governor’s decision was, from the beginning, criticized by the medical community, notably his recommendations on COVID-19 safety precautions.”
The settlement is seen as a major victory for first amendment groups seeking and obtaining public records under Florida’s Sunshine laws. Michael Barfield, a representative of the Florida Center for Government Accountability, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, was quoted by WESH as stating,
“They were hiding this information from the public.”
The agreement requires the Florida Department of Health to resume posting daily COVID-19 information, which was previously halted during the pandemic. Instead of reporting numbers every two weeks, as the health department currently does, beginning October 28, daily COVID-19 data must include daily vaccination and case counts. Weekly death reports must also be released by the end of each week, though it wasn’t specified whether this meant the end of business on Friday or the end of the day on Sunday.
The settlement does not include an admission of fault by the Florida Department of Health or Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo, but the state has agreed to pay all legal fees. The decision to settle the lawsuit and resume providing COVID-19 data is a positive step towards transparency and accountability in Florida’s response to the ongoing pandemic.
About Aron Solomon
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and the Editor-in-Chief for Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, YouTube, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.