TALLAHASSEE, FL — (04-29-20) — Florida officials under the orders of Governor Santis (R), had reportedly withheld medical examiners’ data on coronavirus deaths in the state for over a week. The policy was quickly changed after the Tampa Bay Times reported that the medical examiners were counting 10 percent more deaths than the official state data.
Stephen Nelson, chairman of the state Medical Examiners Commission, told the Tampa Bay Times that the state health department intervened and told him it planned to remove causes of death and case descriptions from mortality data.
Chairman Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times that the data is meaningless without that information, and that the entirety of the list should be considered public information.
“This is no different than any other public record we deal with,” said Nelson. “It’s paid for by taxpayer dollars and the taxpayers have a right to know.” said Nelson.
Alberto Moscoso, a spokesman for the state health department, told the Times that the department “participated in conference calls” with the state Department of Law Enforcement, which provides administrative support to the Medical Examiners Commission, saying the discussions pertained to “privacy concerns for the individuals that passed away related to COVID-19.”
Moscoso added that the state did not provide a formal legal opinion during the calls.
In fact the agency attempted to persuade the Miami-Dade County medical examiner’s office back in March to restrict access to death records, according to the Times, citing correspondence between the two agencies.
After heavy pressure, the county released the records, including the names of the dead and cause of death.
Hillsborough County, meanwhile, refused to release records for weeks before eventually releasing a list on Tuesday of those identified as dying from the coronavirus COVID-19 virus, after questioning from multiple news outlets.
The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner which previously provided a spreadsheet of coronavirus-related deaths, was ordered by county attorneys last week to stop releasing the data.
“I was actually taken aback when they called us,” said Paul Petrino, the Palm Beach County office’s operations manager told the Tampa Bay Times, saying the office considers the release of the information essential to providing the public with information.
“I’d hate to see anything hinder that,” said Petrino. “Hopefully, it won’t.”
JRL CHARTS reached out to the Florida Department of Health for comment on this story but as of this posting, we have not received a response. Should the Florida Department of Health issue a response, we will update this article accordingly.
Article by: Paul Goldberg, Staff Writer
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