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Friday, January 27, 2023

State surgeon general’s death probe delays update of daily COVID-19 numbers

The Florida Department of Health failed to update its COVID-19 website on Wednesday after the state’s surgeon general said he plans to conduct a more thorough review of all fatalities reported to the state.

In a late afternoon news release, the Florida Health Department reported that fatality data reported to the state “consistently presents confusion and warrants a more rigorous review.” For instance, of the 95 fatalities reported to the state on Tuesday, 16 had more than a two-month separation between the time they tested positive and died, and 11 of the deaths occurred more than a month ago, the release says.

Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees said Wednesday that he plans to conduct a more thorough review of COVID-19 fatalities being reported to the state.

“During a pandemic, the public must be able to rely on accurate public health data to make informed decisions,” said Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees. “To ensure the accuracy of COVID-19 related deaths, the Department will be performing additional reviews of all deaths. Timely and accurate data remains a top priority of the Department of Health.”

Wednesday’s delay in updated COVID-19 numbers prompted some to wonder throughout the day if Gov. Ron DeSantis was proceeding with a plan to eliminate the daily reporting of new cases across the state. But that idea was refuted on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon when DeSantis spokesman Fred Piccolo Jr. wrote: “There will be no elimination of COVID-19 data available to the public. There is no plan to change reporting frequency or depth anytime in the near future. That is all.”

On Tuesday, Florida surpassed 760,000 COVID-19 cases. The state website can be accessed at www.floridahealth.gov and typically is updated every day around 11 a.m.

In fact, with the exception of one other issue, the website has been constantly updated since March when the pandemic first hit Florida. In several speeches, DeSantis has touted the website while traveling across the state. But he also has become agitated at times when he’s been questioned about large increases in the number of cases on certain days.

Wednesday’s incident marks the second time this month that the Florida Department of Health failed to update the COVID-19 website. On Oct. 10, the agency blamed an issue with a lab that provided test results for its failure to update COVID-19 numbers. A spokesman said the department received about 400,000 previously reported results from Helix Laboratory – a private lab that is not affiliated with the state of Florida – and it needed time to sort through and correct the data.

The failure to update the webpage that many Floridians and their families count on for daily COVID-19 updates also comes as the state is in the midst of an uptick in positive results. On Tuesday, Florida reported 760,389 cases – an increase of 3,662 cases from Monday – along with 16,308 deaths and 47,352 people hospitalized.

Locally speaking, on Tuesday Marion County reported 10,509 cases, with 8,027 of those being in Ocala. Summerfield reported 434 cases, while Belleview had 378, Dunnellon had 356 and Citra had 194. On Tuesday, the Ocala City Council also extended its emergency mask ordinance for another 60 days.