Is Florida under-counting COVID-19 deaths?

A respected medical journal has questioned Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ numbers regarding COVID-related deaths. Photo courtesy South Florida Sun Sentinel

The number of Floridians who have died from COVID-19 is approaching 34,000, according to the state of Florida, but a recent study by the American Journal of Public Health suggests that the number is actually much higher by thousands of cases.

In April 2020, it became clear that Florida was intentionally hiding a list of daily deaths that had previously been compiled by county medical examiners, according to the journal. Since then, those examiners, as well as hospitals and local officials have complained that the number of COVID-19 deaths being reported by Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration doesn’t match what they’re seeing in their areas.

“Total deaths are significantly higher than historical trends in Florida even when accounting for COVID-19 related deaths,” the study concluded.

The researchers compared estimated and recorded death data during the pandemic. DeSantis said on March 27 that the state’s health department is releasing accurate information.

“We have the most data than any state,” he said. “They’re releasing stuff, and they’re putting it out there.”

Meanwhile, infectious disease experts are tracking a rising number of COVID-19 variant cases in Florida. The state has far more variant cases than any other in the country, according to the CDC. With that in mind, doctors worry that spring break could be the breaking point for a fourth wave of the coronavirus.

Last year, Rebekah Jones, a data scientist with the state, claimed she was fired by the state for not doctoring coronavirus figures. Jones has said she was terminated because she refused to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”


Florida has been one of the leading focal points for the spread of the virus in the United States, with well over 2 million infections. The analysis released by the American Journal of Public Health was aimed at verifying and confirming the number of excess deaths occurring in Florida since the COVID-19 pandemic struck the state in March 2020. This meant assessing those deaths exceeding historical or previous trends after accounting for COVID-19 deaths, with a  special emphasis placed on forecasting monthly deaths from January to September 2020 if the pandemic had not occurred. A comparison was then conducted with monthly recorded total deaths during the pandemic and deaths only from the virus. Results from the research suggested that Florida saw 19,241 additional people die between March and September 2020, a 15.5 percent increase in deaths for the seven-month interval. Of the excess death totals, 14,317 of them had been COVID-19 deaths not logged into the state’s official coronavirus tracker and 4,924 other deaths, excluding COVID-19. The study concluded that the impact of COVID-19 on mortality is much greater than the official COVID-19 data suggests.


Hospital patients in Florida reported symptoms of the virus as early as Jan. 1, 2020, just days before the World Health Organization began releasing its first major investigative reports on SARS-CoV-2. Florida did not announce its first two presumed coronavirus cases until March 1, well after COVID-19 reached community transmission. DeSantis labeled the virus a “significant health threat” in January 2020, but consistently downplayed the likelihood of its spread in Florida before the state’s first cases were confirmed in March 2020.

Florida officials were among the first to lift shutdowns in the months of May and June of last year with the opening of restaurants and retail stores throughout the state. Since then, DeSantis has opposed any new shutdowns or restrictions.


Overall, COVID-19 was the third most common cause of death in the U.S. during 2020, Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Justin Lessler said.