Florida’s health department has not counted COVID cases and deaths, says state audit

Data for COVID-19 in Florida were so inaccurate, incomplete and delayed during the first months of the pandemic that government officials and the public may not have needed it identification information the effectiveness of state protection measures against COVID-19 and the best plan to combat the virus, according to a state report released Monday.

Covering the state’s response to the pandemic from March to October 2020, the Auditor General’s annual analysis found missing data on deaths, undeclared demographics and incomplete contact tracking as the virus spread across the country. In addition, the report concludes that public health officials have not carried out routine data checks to ensure the accuracy of and did not trace the discrepancies.

However, a senior government health official, Health Ministry spokesman Jeremy Redfern, said the auditor’s report was wrong.

Said Redfern “Some of the conclusions come from the misunderstanding (of the auditors) of the purpose of the different datasets,” adding that “the report does not look at the tremendous progress we have made in modernizing our reporting systems.”

The state auditors reviewed a sample of 2,600 tests taken at three state test facilities and found that the laboratories agreed with the state failed to return results for nearly 60% of the tests. The report does not specify the locations of the three test sites.

Redfern said he could not say whether any of the missing results were positive or whether potentially positive people had been notified of their results.

The results of the tests that were returned often did not take into account basic demographic information. Nearly 60 percent of the cases did not indicate the ethnicity of the person and more than half did not indicate the race.

The missing demographics are not unique to Florida, said Beth Blauer, executive director of the Center for Civic Impact at Johns Hopkins University, but this is “the most critical information we’ve been missing.”

Once the cases were identified, health professionals had to contact all COVID-positive individuals within 48 hours of diagnosis, according to government guidelines.

However, the auditors found that the state had never spoken to 23% of those infected. Those with whom the state has been in contact have often been reached within a week of a positive test, leaving them enough time to spread the virus to others.

However, given how quickly the pandemic escalated to more than 80,000 cases a week in the first seven months, tracking government contacts was not bad, Redfern said.

“We won’t be able to hire enough people fast enough to meet that demand,” Redfern said. “It is unrealistic to think that this would be sustainable.”

In January 2022, the state formally recommended that county health departments stop tracking contacts with COVID-19, according to an email from Florida Chief Surgeon Joseph Ladapo.

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The auditors also found more than 3,000 deaths from COVID-19, reported by doctors who are not on the state’s list of deaths.

Many of the missing records were probably due to typographical or technical errors, the report concluded. However, the report found that government records were missing or significantly delayed for almost 40% of the missing deaths it reviewed.

Health officials told auditors that death reports could take up to 60 days to appear in the official state issue – “a very long time to wait to see how deadly the emerging disease is,” he said. Blauer.

Redfern said the auditors had misunderstood the requirements for reporting deaths and that delaying reporting had not changed significantly the pandemic response of the state.

The Ministry of Health replied in an email to the Auditor General that he agreed with the report’s recommendation to improve the accuracy of future data collection. The ministry said it would investigate discrepancies and review data policies by the end of the year.

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