What the Heck Is Going on in Florida?
As the state reopens, concerns about censorship and accuracy of its data arise
When the coronavirus pandemic struck, Florida became one of the last states to close its doors, on April 1. On Monday, it became one of the first to fully reopen. Though it had relaxed restrictions on stores and restaurants in most of its 67 counties on May 4, Monday saw the reopening of the highly populated South Florida’s Miami-Dade and Broward counties, including Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said that these two counties had met the criteria for reopening, “including fewer coronavirus hospitalizations and a lower percentage of positive Covid-19 tests,” reported local news station WPTV. On Tuesday, however, Florida’s death toll passed 2,000, and DeSantis’s government came under scrutiny after a scientist alleged she was fired from the Florida Department of Health (DOH) for refusing to manipulate Covid-19 data.
In late April, when DeSantis unveiled his plan to reopen, he said that 60% of the state’s cases and deaths had occurred in South Florida but that hospitalizations, deaths, and positive cases of the virus had slowed in other regions, reported USA Today. “We need to focus on facts, not fear,” he said. DeSantis made this statement the day after returning from a trip to the White House, where he announced that Florida was “ready to enact a version of the federal guidelines for the first phase of an economic restart.”
But public health officials have repeatedly warned that Florida is not ready to reopen. Today, the DOH reported 47,471 cases, an increase of 527 since Tuesday’s count of 46,944. The current death toll is 2,096.
State data shows that daily new cases and hospitalizations peaked in April, and deaths peaked in early May. Grave concerns, however, have been raised about the accuracy of this data.
In April, the Miami Herald revealed that the size of the testing backlog reported by the DOH was “severely” undercounted. A major reason is that in its official count, the state only takes into account data from state-run testing labs — even though 90% of Florida’s tests are being done in private labs, where there is a considerable backlog. This is important: It means…