State Audit Reveals Florida Undercounted COVID Deaths by Thousands

An audit released by the state of Florida on Monday suggests that information that the state released to the public during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic was inaccurate and incomplete.

The report, conducted over the past year by the Florida Auditor General, examined the state’s COVID-19 response from March to October 2020.

The audit reviewed a sample of tests from three separate state-run facilities in its investigation — and ultimately came to the conclusion that data on case and death counts frequently went unreported, and that the state often failed to adhere to protocols regarding the virus.

State-contracted labs, for example, failed to return results for around 60 percent of the tests that were administered during that eight-month period. Of the results that were returned, many didn’t include critical demographic information, failing to record a person’s ethnicity 60 percent of the time and failing to account for their race more than half of the time.

Auditors also found that the state didn’t conduct contract tracing for 23 percent of the positive cases it identified — put another way, close to one in four Floridians who tested positive for coronavirus during the early months of the pandemic were never told they had the virus in their systems, the audit concluded. Even when people were notified of their positive results, many weren’t alerted until well after they got tested — in some cases, more than a week later.

The audit also found that Florida officials had undercounted deaths in the state. More than 3,000 additional COVID-19-related deaths were reported by physicians than were on the state’s official list of total deaths during the first eight months of the pandemic.

The Florida Auditor General also said in the report that the state failed to conduct routine checks on data collection to ensure accuracy in their numbers. When discrepancies were found, there was no follow-up, the report said.

The conclusions in the report confirm what many Floridians were warning about early on in the pandemic, when Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and other right-wing lawmakers were claiming that businesses and other entities were safe enough to reopen despite instituting few statewide precautionary measures to address the continued presence of coronavirus.

In the first year of the pandemic, for example, the state restricted local medical examiners from publishing their own numbers on COVID-19 deaths after their numbers conflicted with the state’s official reports. A state employee named Rebekah Jones, who was in charge of updating infection numbers across the state, was fired after she alleged that the numbers were being manipulated.

DeSantis frequently downplayed the dangers of the virus, and even made campaign materials that were critical of national health officials who implored people to take the pandemic more seriously.

Florida is currently seeing an increase in case numbers, reporting nearly 10,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day over the past two weeks. More than 74,700 Floridians have died due to coronavirus since the pandemic began more than two years ago — a figure that’s equivalent to the entire population of Daytona Beach.

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