Newspapers should not have to involve attorneys to get their hands on basic public health information.
But sure enough, that’s what the Orlando Sentinel was forced to do to get a copy of a weekly status report the White House Coronavirus Task Force sends to each of the state’s governors.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office should have been posting these reports every single week for all of Florida to see. Instead, it’s been keeping them secret.
When a Sentinel reporter found out about their existence, the DeSantis administration switched from secrecy to obstruction. Bureaucrats told reporter Naseem Miller that the document would have to get in line behind other public records requests and then undergo a legal review.
All this for a document the state has been getting every week since early summer. They knew full well there wasn’t anything in it that needed redacting.
Never mind that. The state was determined to withhold the report even as infections are starting to spike here and around the country.
This should come as a surprise to no one, journalists or everyday Floridians alike. The DeSantis administration has set new standards for obstructing the release of public information, and that’s saying something considering he succeeded Rick Scott.
Neither of the last two governors has shown any interest in curtailing the Legislature’s annual effort to further reduce the public’s access to public information, allowing Florida’s once-proud tradition of open government to continue its slow but steady decline.
The Sentinel ultimately got the state coronavirus report, but only after a newspaper attorney sent an e-mail reminding state officials about the importance of releasing public health information during a pandemic, something the state surely knew already. By then, the Oct. 11 report was 10 days old.
The report, covering the week of Oct. 5, was a combination of good and alarming news.
The good news at the time was that the overall number of new cases and positive cases were fairly stable for the week. The alarming news was that 13% of the state’s nursing homes had a patient contract COVID-19, while 24% of homes had an employee get the disease.
It also warned of increasing cases at the Villages, a mega-retirement area where President Donald Trump held a tightly packed rally last week, with DeSantis in attendance.
Judging from his own actions, the governor is either not reading the task force’s reports or he’s choosing to ignore them because he views elections as more important than public health. Or possibly both.
DeSantis can do what he wants with the information. What his administration can’t do is hide it from everyone else.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE ORLANDO SENTINEL