University investigation finds 'no merit' to allegations officials suppressed access to Florida COVID data

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The University of Florida has completed an investigation into claims that university or state officials used pressure to destroy or prevent access to state COVID-19 data, finding that the allegations were meritless.

The investigation, conducted by the school’s Office of the Vice President for Research and the Office of Compliance and Ethics, was launched after a December 2021 report from the UF Faculty Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Academic Freedom. That report alleged that researchers at UF’s Gainesville campus felt external pressure to destroy data and faced “barriers” to accessing, analyzing and publishing their findings.

“Upon completing its investigation, the committee found no merit to the allegations regarding the handling of COVID-19 data at UF,” the investigation’s leaders — Vice President for Research David Norton and Chief Compliance, Ethics and Privacy Officer Terra DeBois — said in a letter to school President Kent Fuchs.

The letter said that the investigation included interviews and reviews of various documents which led the investigation committee to believe that the accusations were likely based on an October 2020 incident where a Florida Department of Health representative “expressed concerns regarding UF’s use and management of FDOH data that was gathered exclusively for use in FDOH public health surveillance (PHS) activities.”

The school officials elaborated, explaining that in the summer of 2020 the FDOH hired university employees to help conduct surveillance for contact tracing purposes and that this included granting them access to FDOH data and having them sign a confidentiality agreement. That October, some of the school employees shared some of that information at a Zoom meeting, where some of the other participants were FDOH representatives. According to the university, CDC representatives were also in the meeting.

“These UF employees did not have the authority to share the data or use them for research purposes,” the letter said. “In response, the UF team was reminded by university administrators to be cognizant of the boundaries and restrictions related to the use and collection of FDOH data.”

Fox News reached out to FDOH and a representative for Gov. Ron DeSantis for comment but they did not immediately respond.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference Feb. 24, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. 
(AP Photo/John Raoux)

DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw responded to the investigation’s findings by taking a shot at reporters who repeated the allegations.

“Let me guess, all the churnalists who wrote those breathless headlines last summer repeating evidence free allegations against @govrondesantis will apologize now. Just kidding, they will pretend this never happened,” Pushaw tweeted.

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