Florida settles COVID-19 lawsuit; will start sharing weekly virus data

Two years after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration was sued for not sharing information on the spread of COVID-19, the case is now settled and the state will again have to start providing weekly virus updates to an online dashboard.

Former Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith announced the settlement Monday, after suing the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) for denying his public records request for COVID-19 data from 2021. While neither the FDOH or Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo admitted any fault in denying the request, Smith said the state has agreed to cover his more than $152,000 in legal fees and will also provide COVID-19 data to the public for the next three years, including weekly updates on cases, deaths, and vaccination rates.

“All Floridians have a constitutional right to public records and the right to receive critical public health data in a timely manner in order to make informed decisions impacting the health and safety of their families,” Smith said in a statement. “The Department LIED about the existence of these public records in court and did everything to restrict information and downplay the threat of COVID even while the Delta variant ripped through Florida — a decision that cost many lives.” 

Florida stopped posting daily COVID-19 updates online in June 2021, citing a decrease in the number of cases and an increase in vaccination rates. Many other states later followed suit.

FDOH spokesman Jae Williams III criticized Smith’s lawsuit as a “political stunt,” saying it’s unfortunate that the state is wasting government resources “arguing over the formatting of data with armchair epidemiologists who have zero training or expertise.”