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Trust Index: Here’s why Florida, medical examiners are reporting different number of COVID-19 deaths

State’s COVID-19 dashboard gets ‘Be Careful’ grade from News 6 fact-checking team

ORLANDO, Fla. – News 6 has discovered a discrepancy in coronavirus-related deaths reported in Florida.

Investigator Louis Bolden dug into the numbers and found the state of Florida has a different number of deaths 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]

According to the Florida Department of Health’s coronavirus dashboard, COVID-19 has claimed more than 2,200 lives in the state of Florida. The state even breaks down those deaths by county.

Bolden took a snapshot of the numbers on May 20, the day the public received information from state medical examiners.

In Lake County, the Department of Health reported 14 deaths but the medical examiner reported 22.

In Orange County, the Department of Health reported 38 deaths but the medical examiner reported 56 deaths, a difference of 18 people.

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

“My concern was, ‘Why are our numbers different?’” Stephany told News 6.

It’s not always the case that the Department of Health has a lower death count.

In Sumter County, the Department of Health reported 17 deaths and the medical examiner reported seven.

In Seminole, the Department of Health had 13 deaths reported but the medical examiner only had five.

“The biggest thing that I’ve been preaching unfortunately for months is those two different sets of numbers, what they mean,” Stephany said.

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

But if someone dies in Florida of COVID-19 and their primary residence is somewhere else -- like snowbirds or visitors, for example -- the state of Florida does not include that death in its COVID-19 death count.

“It’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 wanted to let viewers know, no matter which county you live in, when looking at the COVID-19 dashboard and the medical examiner’s report, you should consider that caveat.

Based on this information, News 6 gives the state’s COVID-19 death count a “Be Careful” grade on the Trust Index.

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