Did Florida change COVID-19 reporting to create ‘artificial decline’ in recent deaths?

Gov. Ron DeSantis denies report, calling it ‘partisan narrative’

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site earlier this month. (Marta Lavandier, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Following a report from the Miami Herald that the Florida Department of Health changed the way it reported death data to the CDC, giving the appearance of a pandemic in decline, Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed back Wednesday, calling the story a “totally false partisan narrative.”

According to the Herald, on Aug. 10, just as the surge of new infections fueled by the delta variant hit the state, Florida began to report new deaths to the CDC by the date the person died. Before that, data collected by FDOH and published by the CDC counted deaths by the date they were recorded, a common method used by the majority of states.

The result is that it is harder to see how many new deaths are added each day, as the deaths are spread out over several days of data, as opposed to being reported on a single day.

“If you chart deaths by Florida’s new method, based on date of death, it will generally appear — even during a spike like the present — that deaths are on a recent downslope. That’s because it takes time for deaths to be evaluated and death certificates processed,” according to The Herald. “When those deaths finally are tallied, they are assigned to the actual date of death — creating a spike where there once existed a downslope and moving the downslope forward in time.”

Shivani Patel, a social epidemiologist and assistant professor at Emory University, told the South Florida newspaper the move by the state was “extremely problematic.”

DeSantis was asked about the report in a Wednesday news conference.

“So first of all it’s just a totally false partisan narrative,” he said. “We are working hard to bring the admissions down in hospitals and emergency rooms and hospitals census, [monoclonal antibody treatment] is helping to do that. I mean, this is really the story, to try to say that doing reporting the way many other states do and which is the most accurate because some type of problem when it’s been something that’s been going on for a long time, you know, is absurd.”

According to the CDC, Florida plus nine other states, as well as Puerto Rico and New York City, report deaths to the CDC by the date of death. Three states - California, Michigan, and Tennessee - report deaths using a combination of the date of death and the report date. The remaining states use solely the report date for submitting data to the CDC.

In a press release, the Florida Department of Health also addressed what it called “misleading” reports.

“Florida reports COVID-19 deaths by date of death for precision, accuracy, and transparency in public communications,” the health department said.

DeSantis said the story was an attempt to distract from his administration’s recent push to increase the use of monoclonal antibody treatments that he calls life-saving.

“We’re seeing really positive results as a result of that and so that’s a good thing everyone should be happy with that,” DeSantis said.

Read the entire report from The Miami Herald here.

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