How many COVID-19 deaths are there? Confusion reigns as FL tries to count the toll

Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees at the podium next to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Dr. Shamarial Roberson in March 2020. Nowadays, Rivkees is rarely seen in news conferences with the governor. Photo: Facebook video

In the course of a week, Florida Department of Health data showed three deaths that now seem to have disappeared in the data that tracks Florida’s COVID-19 death count.

/On March 18, a Leon County woman was reported as a death in the department data. The department described her as a non-resident. The Leon case is no longer in the list of deaths. A department spokesman told the Phoenix the department would not be counting non-residents.

/On March 20, the department reported that “One person has died in Pasco County who had previously tested positive for COVID-19. ” Later that day, the department said this was an error. The case is no longer in the list of deaths.

/On March 23, the department’s data showed 18 deaths for several hours in the evening, including a new death in Pinellas County. In a news release about 11 p.m. Monday, the department reported 17 deaths, saying “In this release, we are correcting the number of COVID-19 related deaths from information previously released on the COVID-19 dashboard.” The case is no longer in the list of deaths.

At issue is whether these individuals actually died, or didn’t die, and if they did die, where were the deaths counted? If the deaths are nonresidents, has the state health department reported the deaths to another state?

Why isn’t the state counting a coronavirus death in Florida whether that person is a resident or not?

Or, why can’t the department at least report separately the figures of nonresidents who died in Florida?

Getting a full and accurate count of deaths is important because it provides a full picture of the COVID-19 crisis. In Florida, tracking the data is overseen by the Florida Department of Health, Surgeon General Scott Rivkees and ultimately, Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The Florida Phoenix asked several questions of the Florida Department of Health and is awaiting responses.

Florida isn’t the only state that has struggled to make sure COVID-19 death counts are accurate.

The Washington Post wrote Monday that:

“Epidemiologists and other leading scientists seeking to decipher test result patterns and slow the advance of the coronavirus are stumbling over the huge disparities among the ways states administer or report information.

Some states are keeping negative tests secret while others aren’t. Some track state lab results, while ignoring test results from private companies. Some restrict the availability of tests, while others test widely.”

As it stands now in Florida, there are 18 deaths, including a new death in St. Johns County, a male, age 52, according to a Tuesday morning report by the state health department.

There are 1,412 COVID-19 infections in all, up from 1,227 Monday evening.

Broward and Miami-Dade continue to have the largest number of cases — both with more than 300 — and Palm Beach County has now exceeded 100 cases.

Overall, the 18 deaths reported Tuesday morning have been in these counties:

Broward: 3; Clay, 2; Duval, 3; Lee, 2; Manatee, 1; Orange, 2; Palm Beach, 3; Santa Rosa, 1, and St. Johns, 1.

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.