State Asked Miami-Dade to Restrict Information of COVID-19 Deaths

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The number of coronavirus deaths in Florida is growing - with nearly 500 reported by state health officials Monday. 

But a closer look at the Florida Department of Health’s data revealed some COVID-19 deaths are not being counted by the state.

NBC 6 Investigators obtained a list of deaths linked to the virus from the Miami-Dade and Broward medical examiner's offices. In both counties, the number of deaths related to COVID-19 was higher than the number reported by the state during the same period.

“They only include certain cases as ‘Broward’ cases even though they die here in Broward,” said the county’s Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Craig Mallak, when asked about the discrepancy. “But how they do that is a mystery to me.”

Medical Examiners record all COVID-19 related deaths in their respective counties, no matter where the person lived. The state, however, takes that detail into account when providing information to the public.

In an email, the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) explained its count also includes all deceased individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, even if the virus was not the cause of death. 

The state’s approach is throwing the numbers off. 

Around noon Monday, the state reported 97 COVID-19 deaths in Miami-Dade while the county medical examiner's office attributed 138 deaths to the virus. In Broward, the medical examiner's office said 97 deaths were linked to the virus while the state listed 76 deaths in its report.

Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava is worried the state’s numbers are undermining efforts at the county level to stop the spread of the virus. 

“We do have some encouraging data that cases seem to have flattened in terms of hospital admissions, but every single data point is important for the public to hear, to understand, and to take into consideration,” Levine Cava said.

NBC 6 Investigators learned that the Florida Department of Health asked Miami-Dade authorities to not release records that show the deaths in the county. These records had been requested by NBC 6 through a public records request.

“I’m writing to advise you that the county would like to honor the Florida Department of Health’s request that the Requested Documents not be disclosed, while also protecting the county from any liability as the public records requests were directed to the county,” Miami-Dade County Attorney, Abigail Price Williams wrote in a letter to the department's general counsel.

The letter was sent a day after NBC 6 requested the records from the Miami-Dade medical examiner's office and asked the state about the discrepancy in the deaths' count.  

In the letter, the Miami-Dade County Attorney acknowledged that the records requested by NBC 6 are not exempt from public disclosure under Florida law and asked the state to defend and indemnify the county moving forward.

The Florida Department of Health didn't respond to NBC 6 questions about the letter.

The Miami-Dade medical examiner's office eventually provided a list of deaths Monday, excluding some information.

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