A Florida House report says 60% 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 the COVID-19 death toll by 10%.
The House analysis also criticized Florida’s adherence to federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, which attribute deaths in which a person tests positive for COVID-19 to the disease.
“Any ‘current’ count of COVID-19 deaths is more accurately described as the number of people with COVID-19 who died, rather than those who died from COVID-19,” the report reads.
The report, released Tuesday and commissioned by outgoing House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, examined 13,920 death certificates provided by the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) and determined Gov. Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers are crafting policy based on compromised data from a flawed methodology.
“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 to House members accompanying the report. “Our leaders cannot build upon the soft-footing of compromised data.”
Oliva, who is term-limited, is leaving the Florida Legislature after serving nine years in the House. He will be succeeded as speaker by Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor.
The FDOH reported on its COVID-19 dashboard Wednesday that 64 new deaths were attributed to the disease, bringing the state’s death toll since March to 15,788 – the nation’s fifth-highest behind New York, Texas, New Jersey and California.
The FDOH dashboard documented 2,869 new COVID-19 diagnoses reported Wednesday at a 13.2% positivity rate. Since March, 741,632 people in Florida have tested positive for COVID-19, and 46,482 people have been hospitalized with the disease, according to the FDOH.
The report was compiled by House staffers who sifted through 13,920 COVID-19 deaths reported as of Sept. 23 and found 11,460, or 82%, of death certificates listed COVID-19 as the cause of death; 1,204 listed COVID-19 as a factor but not the cause; and 1,254 listed COVID-19 as a contributor hastening death but not the cause.
The report said tallies are clouded by a pandemic-induced lack of resources that has medical examiners, usually unfamiliar with the deceased’s medical history, signing off on death certificates best completed by physicians who knew the patient.
“It is possible that pandemic conditions led to more death certificates being completed by physicians or medical examiners who had limited knowledge of the patients and by officials facing significant workload pressures,” it stated.
Oliva said death certificates completed by medical examiners are “often lacking in rigor,” which “undermines the completeness and reliability of the death records.”
Oliva’s memo, not necessarily the report itself, drew sharp rebukes from Democrats and public health officials, especially medical examiners.
If tallies are inflated inadvertently by 10%, instead of 15,788 deaths, the more accurate figure still would top 14,000, they argued.
“Trying to find a way to downplay the Covid death toll in Florida is a sick tactic. Honestly, ONE person dying because of it is too many,” tweeted Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, who was sickened by COVID-19 this summer before winning an August primary for state senator.
“Why are we spending our time justifying how someone died?” Jones said. “They should be using their time to get data from unemployment or to get data on those individuals who are unemployed and no longer have health insurance and are using emergency rooms because of unemployment. We are utilizing our time to create a new narrative to make it ‘not so bad.’ It’s irresponsible of us.”
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