Deputy health director: Florida is not undercounting COVID-19 deaths

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Health is pushing back after media reports grabbed national headlines suggesting the state has undercounted deaths due to COVID-19.

The Department of Health argues the study cited in the articles says no such thing.

A study from the University of Utah found Florida had nearly 5,000 more excess deaths between January and September than the state’s official COVID death toll.

“No. Florida is not undercounting deaths,” said Dr. Shamarial Roberson, deputy director of health for the Florida Department of Health. “We capture all reported deaths related to COVID-19. We have a very rigorous process.”

Media reports grabbing national headlines suggested the difference in COVID deaths and excess deaths could be evidence of an undercount, but Roberson said that assumes the pandemic didn’t have other heath impacts.

“If somebody didn’t go to the hospital and they had a heart attack, maybe it was because they were afraid of COVID-19. So excess analyzing and this forecasting tool is just a tool to look at other things that may be happening in the background,” said Roberson.

Even in the original article, a CDC statistician was quoted saying there’s nothing that stands out about Florida’s numbers.

The lead author of the study has also been quoted as saying more research needs to be done to determine how and whether the pandemic played a roll in the excess deaths.

Florida’s top Democrat, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, shared the original article on social media.

Reporters asked her if the new critiques swayed her opinion.

“I will continue to call light to these issues for continued information gathering and really getting this stuff right because the people of the state of Florida need to know what’s happening in our state,” said Fried.

A request for comment from the author of the study was not immediately returned.

A total of 33,494 Florida residents have lost their lives due to COVID-19 according to the Department of Health as of Thursday. The state ranks 27th in deaths per 100,000.

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