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Trust Index: News 6 discovers discrepancy in COVID-19 deaths reported in Florida

State’s COVID-19 death toll, county-by-county count given ‘Be Careful’ on Trust Index

In this Tuesday, May 5, 2020, photo, Cook County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, enters an autopsy room where she will personally perform four autopsies in as many hours at the county morgue in Chicago. Arunkumar starts her day with a numbers problem. It's how to manage a tripling of death cases with the same number of pathologists and the same number of hours in a day as before COVID-19. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
In this Tuesday, May 5, 2020, photo, Cook County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, enters an autopsy room where she will personally perform four autopsies in as many hours at the county morgue in Chicago. Arunkumar starts her day with a numbers problem. It's how to manage a tripling of death cases with the same number of pathologists and the same number of hours in a day as before COVID-19. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ORLANDO, Fla. – News 6 has discovered a discrepancy in COVID-19 deaths reported across the state of Florida.

Investigator Louis Bolden dug into the numbers and found that the state of Florida has a different number of deaths reported than many of the state’s medical examiners. Previously, the state blocked medical examiners from releasing their numbers.

Bolden took that information and ran it through News 6′s trust index, which fact checks questionable information circulating on social media and in our communities.

[TRUST INDEX: See a questionable claim on social media? Share it with the Trust Index fact-checking team]

COVID-19 has claimed more than 2,100 lives in the state of Florida, according to the Department of Health’s dashboard. The state even breaks down those deaths by county.

In Orange County, there have been 38 coronavirus-related deaths, according to the state’s report, and 18 in Osceola County, for a total of 56 deaths in both counties.

However, when News 6 requested the deaths in both counties from the Orange-Osceola Medical Examiner’s Office, there were a total of 79 deaths .... an additional 23 dead people.

Orange Osceola Medical Examiner Dr. Joshua Stephany noticed the discrepancy, too.

“My concern was, ‘Why are our numbers different?’” Stephany said. “That’s why, in the very beginning, I contacted the Department of Health."

Here’s the issue: If someone dies anywhere in Florida, the medical examiner in that county counts that death.

If someone dies of COVID-19 in Florida but their primary residence is somewhere else -- perhaps they’re “snowbirds” or were visiting the state for another reason -- the state of Florida does not include that death in its count.

“lt’s nothing nefarious, there’s no malfeasance, but you can see how it could be taken that way if you don’t explain why there’s two sets of numbers,” Stephany said.

That’s why News 6 wants to inform viewers that, when looking at the COVID-19 dashboard and the state’s report, you should consider that caveat.

Based on that information, our team gives the state’s COVID-19 death count, and county-by-county count a “Be Careful” grade on the Trust Index.

Be Careful

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