On a day when Florida topped 1.1 million cumulative cases of COVID-19 and the tri-county area saw a marked increase in positive results, Gov. Ron DeSantis made headlines when he got into an argument with a reporter during a press conference in Tampa.
The governor held the press conference Friday at the Tampa Firefighters Museum and was joined by his wife, Casey. After talking briefly about his vaccine plan for the Sunshine State, he took questions and quickly became angry when a reporter asked him about a recent “raid” at the home of former Florida Department of Health data analyst Rebekah Jones, whom DeSantis has said has “issues.”
Jones was instrumental in creating the state’s COVID-19 dashboard and has been running an alternate site to the state’s webpage since being fired in May after suggesting there was a conspiracy to falsify COVID-19 data so it would benefit DeSantis’ efforts to reopen business and public places.
Jones posted video of the incident on Twitter earlier this week that showed Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents coming into her home with guns drawn. They were serving a search warrant to seize her computers, smartphones and other electronics as part of a computer hacking investigation after someone sent a text message to 1,750 people calling for them to “speak up before another 17,000 people are dead” as a result of COVID-19.
FDLE claims officers traced the message to Jones’ IP address. She has denied that accusation and pointed out that her username and password to log into the emergency management system had been available to the public on a state website.
On Friday, DeSantis, who has held very few press conferences since the presidential election last month, bristled when a reporter referred to the incident at Jones’ home as a “raid.” He said using that word was “editorializing” and then raised his voice while telling the reporter she wasn’t going to “get away” with that.
“These people did their job,” he said. “They’ve been smeared as a ‘Gestapo’ for doing their jobs. They did a search warrant. Why did they do a search warrant on the house? Because her IP was linked to the felony. What were they supposed to do? Just ignore it. Of course not.”
DeSantis said the FDLE officers followed appropriate protocols, which was backed up by video provided by Tallahassee Police officers.
“They were respectful. She was not cooperative,” he said. “It was not a raid. They were serving valid process in accordance with the laws and Constitution of the United States and the state of Florida. They did it with integrity. They did it with honor, and to say it’s a raid is disinformation.”
As the reporter tried to clarify her questions and defend herself, DeSantis told her the press should looked at facts and stop “feeding” narratives.
“I understand why you do it but it’s not supported by facts and so you should be better than that,” he said as he promptly ended the press conference.
Locally, a total of 118 new COVID-19 cases were reported Friday in and around The Villages. Those include:
- The Villages (Sumter, Lake and Marion counties) up 44 for a total of 1,564;
- Leesburg up 26 for a total of 1,928;
- Lady Lake up 18 for a total of 606;
- Summerfield up 16 for a total of 721;
- Belleview up 7 for a total of 566;
- Wildwood up 3 for a total of 572;
- Oxford up 3 for a total of 193; and
- Fruitland Park up 1 for a total of 281.
Below is a breakdown of other COVID-19 activity in the local area:
- Cases: 30,530 – increase of 415
- Deaths: 782
- Hospitalizations: 2,465
- Cases: 3,947 – increase of 54
- Deaths: 102
- Hospitalizations: 349
- Areas/cities with most cases: The Villages (1,436), Coleman (726), Wildwood (572), Bushnell (469) and Oxford (193).
- Cases: 11,985 – increase of 187
- Deaths: 267
- Hospitalizations: 906
- Cities with most cases: Clermont (3,183), Leesburg (1,928), Tavares (988), Eustis (978) and Mount Dora (924). The Villages also is reporting 70 cases.
- Cases: 14,598 – increase of 174
- Deaths: 413
- Hospitalizations: 1,210
- Cities with most cases: Ocala (11,191), Summerfield (721), Dunnellon (583), Belleview (566) and Citra (258). The Villages also is reporting 58 cases.
All told, Florida is reporting 1,106,396 cases – an increase of 11,699 from Thursday to Friday. Of those, 1,087,956 are residents. A total of 59,069 cases have been reported in long-term care centers and 26,018 in correctional facilities. Across the state, there have been 19,977 deaths and 57,728 people have been hospitalized.