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Pulling back the curtain on how ABC Action News gathers Florida's COVID-19 data

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Posted at 2:35 PM, Aug 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-02 17:55:26-04

TAMPA, Fla. — As Florida continues to find itself in the crosshairs of a COVID-19 delta variant surge, ABC Action News wanted to increase our transparency and show you how we gather and report the data every day.

It all starts with spreadsheets ABC Action News has been working with since COVID-19 data became public in 2020. Our team adds to the data each week so we can better show you how the state and local counties are peaking or declining. We use data reported to the state from local health departments, but you may have noticed a shift recently.

Data on COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are being reported less often. And, when the data is reported, the numbers don’t always match. This very situation happened last Friday.

The state of Florida’s weekly COVID-19 report showed 108 deaths over the last week. However, ABC Action News reported 409 new deaths during that time period. So, what’s behind the large difference between the two numbers?

The 108 number is the number of people who have died in the last week. So, if the death happened during that week and was reported, the state added that death into the 108 number. But that doesn’t explain the full story, because the state received reports of 409 people who died in recent weeks or months.

Don’t get confused, let us explain the difference.

Since last year, when the number of deaths was the highest, the state told ABC Action News the reporting of COVID-19 deaths was often delayed as medical examiner’s offices and hospitals were overwhelmed and couldn’t keep up and fell behind in their reporting. That means the state didn’t find out about deaths until weeks, even months after they happened.

This means that while 108 people died from COVID during the last week, the state received reports of 409 people who have died recently, but may not have been included in a weekly count. For example, a COVID-19 patient died the week of July 11, but the state only found out about it the week of July 25. That death wouldn’t be in the weekly count because it didn’t happen that week, but it still counts to the cumulative total, which is where we look.

Each week, we add the cumulative number of deaths reported that week and subtract the cumulative number of deaths from the previous week. The final number is the total number of deaths reported that week, even if those deaths happened at a previous time.

It sounds complicated, but ABC Action News felt it was important to explain how we come to the numbers we report because we want to be as transparent as possible when it comes to life and death information like COVID-19 numbers.