Deputy Director of Health for the Florida Department of Health Dr. Shamarial Roberson vehemently denies Florida undercounted COVID cases in a recent interview with WCTV yesterday.
Media, particularly Yahoo News, has taken a study from the University of Utah which found Florida had nearly 5,000 more excess deaths between January and September than what were included in the state’s COVID death tally, and suggested that those excess deaths were all COVID deaths and were undercounted by the state.
“Florida is undercounting the number of people who died from COVID-19 by thousands of cases, casting new doubt on claims that Governor Ron DeSantis navigated the coronavirus pandemic successfully,” wrote Yahoo national correspondent Alexander Nazaryan on Tuesday.
“In the case of Florida, the researchers say, 4,924 excess deaths should have been counted as resulting from COVID-19 but for the most part were ruled as having been caused by something else, thus lowering Florida’s coronavirus fatality count,” the article reads.
Nazaryan went on to imply that DeSantis could be pressuring the state’s medical examiners, who have “some discretion,” to deliberately undercount COVID deaths. “In Florida, the state’s 25 district medical examiners are directly appointed by the governor,” he noted.
But Roberson says that is not an accurate representation of those deaths. She said the pandemic had other health impacts.
She told WCTV, “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.
She was emphatic, “No. Florida is not undercounting deaths.
“We capture all reported deaths related to COVID-19. We have a very rigorous process.”
WCTV pointed out that in the Yahoo article, a CDC statistician was quoted saying there’s nothing that stands out about Florida’s numbers.
The lead author of the study, Moosa Tatar, said in a National Review story “the story’s framing of his analysis was incorrect, and he does not yet know how many of the excess deaths are attributable to COVID.”
“The impact of COVID-19 on mortality is significantly greater than the official COVID-19 data suggests. But we need further research to determine specific reasons for this,” he told National Review. “These deaths may have been directly or indirectly associated with COVID-19.”
Dan Weinberger, an associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health, who has his own study of “the gap between the reported COVID-19 deaths and the total increase in deaths compared to expected number of deaths,” agrees with Tatar and seems to support Roberson’s explanation.
He told National Review. “…other things, like people avoiding healthcare early in the pandemic, delaying treatments, and other indirect effects of the pandemic can influence this gap as well. If you look at the size of this gap relative to other states, it is really not remarkable — some states have a smaller gap, other have a larger gap.”