By The News Service of Florida
After a two-year fight, the Florida Department of Health will release more data about COVID-19 and pay $152,500 in legal fees and costs, according to a settlement released Monday by plaintiffs in the case. The settlement will require the department to post weekly data about vaccination counts, case counts and deaths by county, age group, gender and race.
The Florida Center for Government Accountability and state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, filed a lawsuit Aug. 30, 2021, and alleged that the department violated the state’s public-records law by turning down requests for daily COVID-19 data. The lawsuit was later joined by several media organizations.
The plaintiffs, in part, sought data that would provide county and demographic information about COVID-19 cases. Department of Health attorneys contended that the data was shielded by a state law that says epidemiological information is confidential and exempt from the public-records law and is “to be made public only when necessary to public health.” They also pointed to a department rule carrying out the law about confidentiality. The department issued daily COVID-19 reports until June 2021 but then shifted to posting weekly information that was less detailed. It then moved to posting information every other week.
Smith and the non-profit Florida Center for Government Accountability made public-records requests in July 2021 and August 2021 seeking daily information about COVID-19 cases, positivity rates, hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations. They filed the lawsuit after the department denied the requests.
The $152,500 included in the settlement will go to plaintiffs’ “attorneys’ fees, costs, or any other form of monetary relief to which the plaintiffs may claim entitlement.” The settlement had not been posted Monday afternoon on the Leon County circuit court website.