TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida health officials have started pushing back against new concerns the state’s COVID death count is incorrect.
A recent study from University of Utah researchers proposes that numbers could be off by thousands. Their estimate came from calculating and comparing Florida's average deaths, absent a pandemic, to actual March through September numbers.
When taking COVID into account, scientists said there were near 5,000 more deaths than expected. They suggested health officials could have misidentified them as many COVID patients suffer from comorbidity.
Yahoo News first published an article citing the study, earlier this week. The story has since received a lot of national attention, motivating the state to respond on Thursday.
"Florida is not undercounting deaths," said Dr. Shamarial Roberson, Florida Deputy Health Secretary. "I’m very confident with the numbers for the state of Florida."
In response, Roberson said each death undergoes a rigorous review process before it's counted. She also said researchers based the study on little more than a public health forecasting tool. It's not "actual data," she said.
"The actual data is what is captured -- that indeed they were a COVID case," she said. "They died within a specified period, and they were counted as a case. That assertion and that claim that we falsely put out numbers, that is false."
Critics of Gov. Ron DeSantis still have doubts Florida's count is complete. The first instance surfaced last year when former state scientist Rebekah Jones accused the governor of pressuring health officials to manipulate data, painting a more rosy picture of the virus to justify reopening.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida's only Democrat elected in a statewide election, has also pushed for more clarity on virus data.
"This goes back to what I've been saying since day one," she said at a recent press event. "There has been a lack of transparency from the governor’s office."
Florida's official COVID death count is more than 33,000. That places the state fourth overall and in the middle of the pack if you account for population.