Trust & Verify: Questions surrounding COVID-19 death statistics

Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:
cause of death in Florida
Credit: WINK News

Cause of death statistics have real impacts. They can determine state and federal funding and drive healthcare decisions. Pensions and life insurance premiums are based partially on mortality data.

WINK News viewer Rhonda Brewer took an interest in the leading causes of death in the state of Florida in 2020 in the historic pandemic year of 2020.

“I have, for the last several months, been trying to get information out of the Florida Department of Health on what the COVID-19 deaths were for 2020, and I’ve been frustrated with that process. I haven’t received that information to date, so I thought WINK News could help me out,” said Brewer.

“I first started with our local county health department that said they did collect all that data several months ago and that they transmitted up to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, but they have not been able to generate the report. I’ve talked to the Bureau of Vital Statistics. I’ve also reached out to the Assistant Surgeon General’s office, who directed me back to other people with the Florida Health Department,” said Brewer.

Trust and Verify Reporter Lisa Hutson gave the Florida Department of Health a call, but no answer.

A month of phone calls, emails, and voicemails requesting the leading causes of death data in the state of Florida in 2020 went unanswered.

The Centers for Disease Control released provisional data in March of 2021 showing COVID-19 as the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States.

In Florida, the CDC estimates COVID-19 took the lives of 21,828 Floridians in 2020, accounting for roughly 9% of all deaths in the state.

These are estimates but not certified results.

“I want to see a line item in there with COVID 19 and see how it’s factored into all those other leading causes, so we know exactly what happened county by county in 2020 in this state,” says Brewer. “We are going to have to measure the cost of this pandemic and how it’s affected us all, and one way we can do that is we can measure the number of deaths to see that actual impact.”

Florida State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando is looking for the same information as Brewer and more. Along with the Center for Government Accountability, he is the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Health to force the release of statewide COVID-19 data.

At the direction of the Governor’s office, the Florida Department of Health stopped sharing daily COVID totals in June 2021 and moved to less detailed weekly reports.

“The decision by the DeSantis administration to end COVID 19 reporting on a daily basis was not just bad politics. It is against the law. It violates our state constitution as it relates to open public records, and that is why we are suing them,” said Representative Guillermo Smith.

Guillermo Smith claims Governor Ron Desantis’ administration is overstepping its legal authority to keep the public’s data.

“The state is fighting us at every turn. They do not want the former surgeon general deposed and given sworn testimony under oath. They are blocking any corporate representative from the DOH (Department of Health) testifying in the case, so it begs the question, what are they hiding?”

After a month of requests, the Florida Department of Health updated the Leading Causes of Death chart to include 2020 deaths.

Their data lists COVID-19 as the third leading cause of death in Florida in 2020, taking the lives of 19,157 Floridians. Only heart disease and cancer ranked higher.

WINK News reached out to the Florida Department of Health once again to ask about the sudden data dump but received no response.

As for the lawsuit against them, FDOH says they cannot comment on pending litigation.

Representative Guillermo Smith says a trial date for his lawsuit against the FDOH is set for December but could face more delays.

Trust WINK News to keep you updated.

Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.