Florida changed its Covid death reporting method making toll look less bad, newspaper’s analysis claims

Instead of showing an average 262 daily deaths, the new method shows just 42 ‘new deaths’

Arpan Rai
Wednesday 01 September 2021 08:15
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<p>File: Medics transfer a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance outside of the emergency department at Coral Gables Hospital, Florida. </p>

File: Medics transfer a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance outside of the emergency department at Coral Gables Hospital, Florida.

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Health authorities in Florida, a state that is battling its deadliest surge in coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, appear to have tweaked the process of reporting deaths, a report suggests.

The Florida Department of Health on 10 August switched from reporting deaths on the day they were recorded, to new deaths by the date on which the person died, according to an analysis by the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald newspapers.

This means, going by the previous methodology, Florida death data should show an average of 262 daily deaths reported to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention over the previous week. But, the unexplained and sudden shift in counting deaths showed just 46 “new death” per day in the last week, showing a significant dip in the death rate even as the cases and deaths continue to soar, the analysis pointed out.

Difference between the two methods is significant in terms of accurate reporting of data. In the first method, the deaths are counted on the date they occurred - which is a straight way to report them. This method is widely used for producing deaths and new cases by most states and countries.

Under the new criteria of reporting deaths, the fatalities are recorded on the date they are officially recorded, which entails the additional time taken to evaluate deaths and issuance of death certificates. This results in showing the gradually recorded deaths on a downward slope, suggesting that the contagion is not virulent — contrary to the ground reality.

The picture will be clearer when the CDC finally tallies the data, pins the fatalities to the actual date and finds a spike which should have been previously reported by the health authorities had the data relied on first methodology, the report said.

Experts have said that this shift in counting deaths is problematic, suggesting that it tampered with the true assessment of the Covid-19 disease spread.

“Florida showed an artificial decline in recent deaths and without an explanation or context, and it would seem like we are doing better than we are,” Shivani Patel, a social epidemiologist and assistant professor at Emory University was quoted as saying by the Miami Herald. “It is extremely problematic especially since it came without warning or explanation during a rise in cases,” she said.

The discrepancy came out after the Florida Department of Health shared a tweet “correcting” the CDC’s data. “The daily case counts for Florida currently posted on the CDC COVID Tracker are incorrect. The current listing states 28,317,” the tweet read, adding an allegedly correct figure.

Florida’s new way to count deaths may not be as helpful, epidemiologist Jason Salemi said.

“Deaths by date of death curve is the most accurate you can get. You know exactly when people died, you know how to construct the curve and exactly when we were experiencing surges in terms of deaths,” Mr Salemi told Miami Herald, adding that the new methodology is less useful for decoding the Covid-19 pandemic in real time.

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