House report says Florida’s COVID-19 death toll inflated by 10%

By John Haughey
The Center Square
October 23, 2020

Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva

A Florida House report says 60% of death certificates issued for state residents whose deaths were attributed to COVID-19 had reporting errors and most were filed by medical examiners, not deceased patients’ physicians, which may be inflating the COVID-19 death toll by 10%.

The House analysis also criticized Florida’s adherence to federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, which attribute deaths in which a person tests positive for COVID-19 to the disease.

“Any ‘current’ count of COVID-19 deaths is more accurately described as the number of people with COVID-19 who died, rather than those who died from COVID-19,” the report reads.

The report, released Tuesday and commissioned by outgoing House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, examined 13,920 death certificates provided by the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) and determined Gov. Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers are crafting policy based on compromised data from a flawed methodology.

“Precision in data is imperative, not just for proper decision-making, but also for public confidence and consistency of response,” Oliva wrote in a memo to House members accompanying the report. “Our leaders cannot build upon the soft-footing of compromised data.”

Oliva, who is term-limited, is leaving the Florida Legislature after serving nine years in the House. He will be succeeded as speaker by Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor.

The FDOH reported on its COVID-19 dashboard Wednesday that 64 new deaths were attributed to the disease, bringing the state’s death toll since March to 15,788 – the nation’s fifth-highest behind New York, Texas, New Jersey and California.

The FDOH dashboard documented 2,869 new COVID-19 diagnoses reported Wednesday at a 13.2% positivity rate. Since March, 741,632 people in Florida have tested positive for COVID-19, and 46,482 people have been hospitalized with the disease, according to the FDOH.

The report was compiled by House staffers who sifted through 13,920 COVID-19 deaths reported as of Sept. 23 and found 11,460, or 82%, of death certificates listed COVID-19 as the cause of death; 1,204 listed COVID-19 as a factor but not the cause; and 1,254 listed COVID-19 as a contributor hastening death but not the cause.

The report said tallies are clouded by a pandemic-induced lack of resources that has medical examiners, usually unfamiliar with the deceased’s medical history, signing off on death certificates best completed by physicians who knew the patient.

“It is possible that pandemic conditions led to more death certificates being completed by physicians or medical examiners who had limited knowledge of the patients and by officials facing significant workload pressures,” it stated.

Oliva said death certificates completed by medical examiners are “often lacking in rigor,” which “undermines the completeness and reliability of the death records.”

Oliva’s memo, not necessarily the report itself, drew sharp rebukes from Democrats and public health officials, especially medical examiners.

If tallies are inflated inadvertently by 10%, instead of 15,788 deaths, the more accurate figure still would top 14,000, they argued.

“Trying to find a way to downplay the Covid death toll in Florida is a sick tactic. Honestly, ONE person dying because of it is too many,” tweeted Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, who was sickened by COVID-19 this summer before winning an August primary for state senator.

“Why are we spending our time justifying how someone died?” Jones said. “They should be using their time to get data from unemployment or to get data on those individuals who are unemployed and no longer have health insurance and are using emergency rooms because of unemployment. We are utilizing our time to create a new narrative to make it ‘not so bad.’ It’s irresponsible of us.”

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Dennis Jay
Dennis Jay(@dennisjay)
3 years ago

Why run articles from such a biased source? The Center Square is owned by the Franklin News Foundation, a right-of-center entity created by a Republican state chair and funded by dark money.

“The report was compiled by House staffers …” Really? They don’t have the guts to say they were all Republican staffers who likely lacked expertise and objectivity to issue such a report.

Susan Steger
Susan Steger(@co-editor-2)
3 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Jay

Center Square keeps our readers informed on state issues, news coverage that is lacking in our area. We have received comments from individuals, both Democrats and Republicans, who appreciate the information provided by the freelance writer, John Haughey. We do not find his articles opinionated or biased, but filled with good information that most of our readers seem to appreciate. If they were opinionated or biased, we would not post.

Regarding this article, at the beginning it was written, “commissioned by outgoing House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes . . .” Since Republicans are the majority, it is pretty obvious that house staffers included more Republicans than Democrats (if Democrats were include, or wanted to be included at all). You failed to note the article ended with a Democrat voicing his objections to the report. I don’t see the bias.

Thank you for your comment.

Evan Nosbig
Evan Nosbig (@guest_59281)
3 years ago
Reply to  Susan Steger

Thank you Susan, spot on. It appears reading comprehension is becoming a lost art.

Brady Ivers
Brady Ivers (@guest_59271)
3 years ago

No trust in politicians for medical info — especially the Tallahassee clowns. I’ll trust the CDC and Dr. Fauci.

bob carter
bob carter (@guest_59272)
3 years ago

The reason to justify the cause of death, the REAL cause of death, is simple. These statistics are another way to bash the current administration in their handling of the virus. Regardless how well, or how poorly handled, the Dems are determined to weaponize this bug, for only one selfish reason. Take back control of the citizens under their thug leadership.

Sorry, you know it’s true, but it’s dangerous to admit it in public.

The stats are overwhelming, in that the current plans are the best available for the populous, without totally closing everything and locking people in their homes. Not even the Dems want this, but still criticize the current plans being carried out.

It’s so tragic to see all this.

Protect the most vulnerable, open the economy for the rest with PPE.

Betsie Huben
Betsie Huben(@betsie-huben)
3 years ago

I may be alone in this but, I really do want to know who died because they had co-morbidities and got Covid and died versus those who appeared to have no co-morbidities, got Covid and died. Within those important distinctions, there may be clues as to how to defeat Covid for all. Also – knowing the truth about numbers is huge for those in local, county and state government who are trying to come up with answers about schools, gatherings, ordinances, etc. The closer we get to the truth of these matters, the better decisions they will make for all of us.