Ron DeSantis

As Death Toll Soars, Fla. Governor Questions Accounting

Citing one report of an accident victim apparently being classified as a COVID death, Gov. Ron DeSantis says the state is following CDC guidance to count everyone with the virus who dies as a COVID death.

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The number of infected Florida residents confirmed to have died in the coronavirus pandemic in recent days is more than double the number posted back in mid-May, when Gov. Ron DeSantis began reopening the state.

After being confronted at a news conference by protesters in Orlando who said he was lying to the public, DeSantis Monday suggested a statistical quirk in how deaths are counted could be behind part of that surge.

Citing a report of one fatal motorcycle crash victim who had the virus apparently being classified as a COVID-related death, DeSantis said the state Department of Health was following guidance on how to count deaths from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The reason that’s the case is because what the CDC has said is anybody that tests positive, if they then die, that’s a death amongst cases," DeSantis said.

But a link on the daily state report that promises to lead to more information on how the CDC counts deaths goes to a dead page.

Elsewhere on the CDC site, NBC 6 could find no guidance that says states should count victims of motor vehicle crashes or any other unnatural deaths as COVID related, if the deceased coincidentally happened to be infected with the coronavirus.

A request made Monday afternoon to the state Department of Health seeking comment on the basis for the governor's claim has not been responded to by Monday evening. Nor have requests from weeks ago for FDOH testing and death data.

But DeSantis repeatedly cited what he said was the CDC guidance in discussing how Florida has added to its death toll, which Monday surpassed 5,000 state residents. Over the last week, 114 resident deaths have been confirmed on average per day; during the first wave of illness in the spring, that number peaked at 51 in mid-May.

"If somebody commits suicide, for example, and then they turn up positive, should that be attributed to the coronavirus?" he asked rhetorically. "From the perspective of the state's reporting, they're just going to keep doing it the CDC’s way."

In April, the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics issued "guidance for certifying deaths" for COVID-19.

It reads, in part, "If COVID-19 played a role in the death, this condition should be specified on the death certificate. In many cases, it is likely that it will be the (underlying cause of death), as it can lead to various life-threatening conditions, such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome."

Nowhere does it say accidental crashes or suicides of people with COVID should be classified as COVID related.

But, of course, such guidance could exist elsewhere within the vast CDC bureaucracy. NBC 6 is awaiting further explanation from the state Department of Health regarding the governor's statements.

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