By John Haughey | The Center Square
Florida is re-evaluating how it reports deaths attributed to COVID-19 “to ensure data integrity” amid claims the number of fatalities linked to the disease is inflated by federal guidelines and gaps between when a death occurred and when it is officially documented.
“During a pandemic, the public must be able to rely on accurate public health data to make informed decisions,” Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said in a statement. “To ensure the accuracy of COVID-19 related deaths, the Department will be performing additional reviews of all deaths. Timely and accurate data remains a top priority of the Department of Health.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has questioned the veracity of how deaths are reported, is considering changing daily COVID-19 reporting on the Florida Department of Health’s (FDOH) dashboard to semiweekly or weekly.
The Florida Department of Corrections (FDOH) reports inmate and staff deaths attributed to COVID-19 in weekly updates, as does the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) in documenting COVID-19 deaths among nursing home and long-term care facility residents and workers.
Rivkees’ announcement Wednesday followed a delay in posting the FDOH’s daily noon update. In a news release, the FDOH said 95 deaths were to be in Wednesday’s report, including 11 that occurred a month ago, 16 two months ago and five more than three months ago.
How the review will affect the state’s daily COVID-19 updates is uncertain. After Wednesday’s delay, numbers were posted at usual, as they were Thursday.
DeSantis spokesperson Fred Piccolo assured, via Twitter, that despite the review of how deaths are reported, “There will be no elimination of COVID-19 data available to the public. There is no plan to change reporting frequency or depth anytime in the near future. That is all.”
Thursday’s FDOH update reported 5,558 new COVID-19 cases, the highest single-day number of new cases recorded in Florida since Aug. 15, bringing the total number of infections recorded statewide since March to 768,091.
The FDOH also reported 57 new deaths related to COVID-19. Since March, 16,470 people have died in Florida, according to the FDOH.
Under federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, any person who died in Florida while testing positive for the disease is officially listed as a COVID-19 related death.
Outgoing House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, released a report commissioned by the state House last week that claimed 60 percent of death certificates issued for state residents whose deaths were attributed to COVID-19 had reporting errors and most were filed by medical examiners, not deceased patients’ physicians, which may be inflating death tolls by 10 percent.
“Precision in data is imperative, not just for proper decision-making, but also for public confidence and consistency of response,” Oliva wrote in a memo accompanying the analysis. “The great disparity of perspective between the political parties has been further exacerbated by the loosening of process and fidelity to established norms in classification. Our leaders cannot build upon the soft-footing of compromised data.”
The FDOH provided 13,920 COVID-19 death certificates to House staff members for analysis. Sixty percent of the death certificates had reporting errors and, the analysis said, did not adhere “to the national standards for completion of death certificates in general and guidelines for COVID-19 related deaths in particular.”
The analysis also found most of the death certificates were filled out by medical examiners and not by physicians who cared for patients before they died.
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