An earlier study looking at sites around the world came to a clear conclusion—deaths due to COVID-19 are being underreported. Deaths in those nations where the novel coronavirus has become widespread are up as much as 60% over past years, which is far more than the number of deaths that are tabulated as official COVID-19 deaths. Studies from both Financial Times and The New York Times show that this is also true in the United States. Looking at just seven states found an additional 9,000 deaths that appear to be related to COVID-19.
In some cases this may be simply because systems are overwhelmed, or because reporting rules are confusing the outcomes. But in at least one case, there seems to be something decidedly fishy going on. And that case is Florida.
As of Wednesday morning, Florida officially had 33,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,200 deaths. Those aren’t great numbers, but Florida’s 3.6% fatality rate is (horribly enough) below the national average and the state has tested at a rate of 18 people out of 1,000—almost exactly the national average.
Considering the reluctance of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis to impose serious social distancing guidelines, the way Florida filled the beaches for Spring Break in the early days of the outbreak, and the large number of elderly residents, it’s both amazing, and extremely relieving, that Florida hasn’t suffered more loss from its still increasing case load.
Unless, of course, it has. Florida wasn’t one of the states studied by the NYT team that looked for excess deaths in some of the states with the highest levels of known cases, but it might deserve a special look all on its own. That’s because, as the Tampa Bay Times reports, Florida has simply stopped releasing death statistics.
Until recently, a regular compilation of deaths was released by Florida’s medical examiners. Oddly enough, the number of coronavirus deaths on this list has regularly exceeded the number of COVID-19 from the official state count. Then, nine days ago, that list stopped appearing.
The Florida Health Department apparently called the Department of Law Enforcement, which supervises the medical examiners, and expressed concerns over privacy. However, though the medical examiner reports do include demographic information along with probable cause of death, they don’t contain names or addresses. Until this point, such records were apparently made public without concern. One medical examiner was told that the list would be allowed to be released … without causes of death mentioned and without the usual case descriptions.
In March, the Health Department has previously leaned on the medical examiner’s office in Miami-Dade County to restrict access to death records there. Similar events have followed in other counties.
In the first week of April, Democratic representatives in the Florida state legislators sent a letter to DeSantis expressing “concern” over inconsistencies between the official COVID-19 numbers and the values reported by the medical examiners. After all, if the state isn’t getting the information on cause of death from county medical examiners, then where is it getting that information?
DeSantis’ office has denied receiving the letter.