State audit finds errors in Florida’s COVID-19 data

Reporter: Sydney Persing

COVID-19 data reporting in the State of Florida was not always correct, according to a new report from the state auditor general.

A state auditor just released an evaluation of how the state handled the crush of COVID data.

The beginning of the pandemic was chaotic and confusing. Many people used the state’s COVID-19 data to help them decide how to behave.

USF’s Dr. Marissa Levine read the 33-page report, which said the state’s initial death counts were wrong and that the data lacked critical demographic information and contact tracing was hit and miss.

“I have to say, I don’t think any of it is a surprise,” Levine said. “I don’t think it’s unique to Florida, I think it’s symptomatic of a much larger issue.”

Levine and John Hopkins’ Beth Blauer, who leads the university’s COVID Data Center, said what happened with Florida’s data happened to everyone’s data.

And there are explanations.

For example, the state’s undercounted deaths?

The data the Department of Health used, Blauer said, was a little less accurate because it was in real-time.

The data the auditor looked at was more accurate but took weeks to compile.

“They weren’t waiting for that process to lapse, which was actually the right thing to do,” Blauer said.

In the report, the Department of Health vows to improve all while maintaining most of the issues are out of its hands.

The experts agree.

The question that remains is whether improvements will be made in order to be prepared for whatever comes next.

“If we had better data infrastructure, we probably could have saved lives,” Blauer said.

In its response to the audit, the DOH said it got incomplete information from labs and incorrect death certificates.

One improvement might be converting to an electronic death reporting system but that would take a lot of time and money.

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