Why would a person be removed from the state’s coronavirus death list? That’s just one question for the Florida Department of Health.
We’ve been tracking the daily coronavirus related deaths in our state for the past six weeks. We started to find that our daily counts didn’t match with the daily report the state was putting out. When we took a closer look day-to-day, we found two things.
First, entries were being removed from the daily report. Second, new entries were being added to the list of deaths in Florida residents but would not be counted as verified on that day. We reached out the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) about the discrepancy in the data to get a better understanding of how people are added or taken off. They didn’t answer our questions, but sent us this response:
"As noted in the Department’s publicly available reports, data is provisional and subject to change. As epidemiological investigations progress, data and new information is often uncovered. We strive to ensure our public information resources reflect the most up-to-date data available. We will continue to update this data as epidemiological investigations continue.
The Department’s commitment to transparency has been acknowledged throughout the nation. Our widely accessible and comprehensive data on the COVID-19 Surveillance Dashboard, has been recognized by the White House and Dr. Deborah Birx, Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the Trump Administration's White House Coronavirus Task Force. The State of Florida will continue to provide the most up-to-date information to arm Floridians with the tools and knowledge necessary to flatten the curve."
Data is provisional and subject to change, but we still wanted to know what those provisions are that would change the information being reported by the state daily. Just last week Governor DeSantis spoke about the importance of the data, “Facts should be comforting. We’ve done much better than people said we would do. And we’re going to continue to apply fact-based, data-driven approach to the problems that are before us.”
Since the state didn’t answer our questions, we took our findings to USF professor Dr. Jill Roberts. Her academic specialties include emerging diseases and molecular epidemiology. She told us being off by a couple deaths isn’t a huge deal when looking at the bigger picture.“Yes we’re going to see changes happen. If we were in the thousands, I think we’d be in trouble, but just a few is not bad,” said Roberts.
We weren’t the only ones noticing discrepancies in the daily death data. The Director of Investigations for the Medical Examiner for Pasco and Pinellas Counties noticed one day that an additional death was being reported by the state in Pinellas that his office didn’t know about.
“What I was informed was there was an individual that is a resident of Pinellas county, but died in a different county and therefore was being counted on their dashboard as a Pinellas county death because it was based on county of residence," he said.
A death is usually counted by the medical examiner based on where the death happens, not where the person is from. He said that if a person came to Florida and had been here a couple months and contracted the virus and then later died from that virus, they would be counted by the Medical Examiner’s office as a death in the state. The FDOH is only providing deaths due to coronavirus in the daily count if they are a Florida resident. It seems different agencies report the deaths differently. He said he doesn’t know why they reported it that way, but that they must have a reason.
The only reason we have from the state as of this date is “the data is provisional and subject to change”.
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