TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The administration of Governor Ron DeSantis has settled a lawsuit against them alleging they wrongly withheld data on the COVID-19 pandemic in Florida. Under this settlement neither DeSantis nor his cabinet will admit wrongdoing, but they will resume the distribution of COVID-related data two years after halting it.
The settlement is a victory for the plaintiff, former state legislator Carlos Guillermo Smith. Having filed the lawsuit in August 2021, Smith will no doubt point to the outcome in his campaign to be elected to the Florida state Senate in 2024.
The Florida state government will be paying all legal fees in the case, a detail which will cost taxpayers at least $300,000. Moving forward, the Florida Department of Health is legally required to release daily numbers on vaccinations and cases across the state for at least 36 months. The dispute began in the midst of the Delta variant, the first major offshoot of the original COVID-19 virus to take hold in Florida.
“The DeSantis administration settled in our favor because they knew what they did was wrong,” Smith said. “They gave their biggest, most vocal critic a huge victory. They couldn’t have handed us this victory if they weren’t guilty.”
DeSantis touted the state's pandemic response in both his 2022 re-election campaign and his current presidential campaign, saying that erring towards less restrictions was economically and medically beneficial. Opponents have argued that actions like the state's initial refusal to produce public health records masked a grimmer reality.
More robust public records will also help put the policies of Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo to the test; Ladapo is currently only advocating residents 65 and older receive COVID-19 booster shots. His stances have been criticized by federal health officials, but will now have the chance to be re-evaluated if they correlate with decreasing COVID-19 case and death figures.