As States Reopen, Concern Grows Over Data Manipulation

The rush to declare victory may rely on misleading numbers.

Austin Mcafee/ZUMA

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The rush to lift lockdown measures, even as COVID-19 continues to pose major problems across the country, is sparking new concern over whether some states are using misleading data in order to justify reopening.

In Georgia, where Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has led one of the most aggressive campaigns to restart the economy, widespread confusion abounds after at least three errors in its recent data-tracking were caught by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Those mistakes included presenting days in the incorrect order, which created the appearance that infections in the state were rapidly declining. For some, the apparent error was too glaring to be just that, immediately drawing suspicion that it had been done intentionally, though Kemp’s office denies the accusation.

“Our mission failed,” Kemp spokesperson Candice Broce said after one reader noted that the cases along the x-axis were not in chronological order. “We apologize. It is fixed.”

Amid those mishaps in Georgia, the leading architect behind Florida’s coronavirus data dashboard revealed on Friday that she had been abruptly removed from her post. According to Florida Today, Rebekah Jones’ announcement followed weeks of strange website crashes and missing data. “As a word of caution, I would not expect the new team to continue the same level of accessibility and transparency that I made central to the process during the first two months,” Jones said in an email announcing her dismissal. “After all, my commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it.”

That’s sparked worries that Jones’ removal may be a signal that the state is clamping down on transparency, as its governor rushes to declare victory against COVID-19.

The potential trend echoes a similar development at the White House, which has reportedly been pressuring the CDC to change its methodology for tallying deaths in a way that would undercount fatalities.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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