Jacksonville Beach, Florida, on April 17.
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The Florida Department of Health has withheld coronavirus death data compiled by the state’s medical examiners for more than a week, the Tampa Bay Times reported on Wednesday.
The health department prevented Florida’s medical examiners from publishing their death tally on their own after the Times found a discrepancy between their count and the department’s count, the report said.
Dr. Stephen Nelson, the chairman of Florida’s Medical Examiners Commission, said state officials told him they would remove the cause of death and the case descriptions from the medical examiners’ death data, the Times reported.
Last month, attorneys for the state health department unsuccessfully sought to withhold the Miami-Dade County medical examiner’s death data from the Miami Herald.
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Florida’s Department of Health has stopped publishing the state’s medical examiners’ coronavirus death data after finding that their count was about 10% higher than the state’s official tally, the Tampa Bay Times reported on Wednesday.
The health department has withheld the medical examiners’ data for more than a week, according to the Times.
The Times reported that state officials said earlier this month that they wanted to review the data following the newspaper’s report about the discrepancy with medical examiners’ figures. But the Times said on Wednesday that they had not provided details on “what they plan to remove.”
The state health department is still releasing its own numbers, with less detail than the medical examiners’ data.
Dr. Stephen Nelson, the head of Florida’s Medical Examiners Commission, told the Times that state officials told him they would strike the cause of death and the case descriptions from the medical examiners’ tally, even though such information has always been in the public record.
“The State of Florida remains dedicated to providing Floridians with transparent information regarding COVID-19,” a health department spokesperson told Business Insider. “Medical examiner data is still included in DOH data as the Medical Examiner Commission reports it to the State.”
But Nelson said that without the cause of death or case descriptions, the medical examiners’ death toll cannot reflect the actual number of coronavirus deaths.
“This is no different than any other public record we deal with,” Nelson told the Times. “It’s paid for by taxpayer dollars and the taxpayers have a right to know.”
Some local medical examiners’ offices have continued to release their own tallies, according to the Times.
A spokesman for the health department told the Times that it was recently in talks with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement about “privacy concerns for the individuals that passed away related to COVID-19.” The medical examiners’ tally does not include names but does include other demographic information.
This may be the first time Florida officials have successfully withheld coronavirus death data, but it is not their first attempt to do so.
Last month, attorneys for the state health department tried to prevent the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s Office from providing death data to the Miami Herald, the Herald reported.
The Herald found through public records it obtained that Christine Lamia, a deputy general counsel for the health department, told Christopher Angell, an assistant county attorney, that the data should be withheld.
“As we discussed, it is the Department of Health’s position that the information requested in the request below should not be released as it is confidential and exempt from public record disclosure,” Lamia said in an email to Angell on April 2.
This article has been updated.
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