TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – This week, county-level COVID-19 deaths statistics have been made available for the first time since Florida shut down its daily COVID-19 dashboard in June.
A state lawmaker suing the state for access to more data believes his lawsuit may have something to do with it, but data scientists aren’t so quick to call foul play.
The new White House COVID-19 Community Profile Report includes a breakdown of deaths in Florida by county. It’s the first time the detailed information has been included for roughly three months.
“It is not a coincidence,” said state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith.
Smith, who is suing the state for access to more detailed COVID-19 data, said the timing of the release is suspect.
“They have a history of only sharing information and public records after they’ve been sued,” said Smith.
The governor’s office responded, accusing the representative of politicizing COVID-19 data.
“It is disappointing that anyone – including activist groups and lawmakers – would question the integrity of Florida’s public health professionals by inappropriately politicizing their important work,” said DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw.
The Department of Health also pushed back, blaming the lack of Florida data appearing in the White House reports on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The Department continues to provide, and has provided, CDC county COVID-19 data since March 2020. We do not have control over the display of these data by CDC,” said DOH Communications Director Weesam Khoury in an emailed statement.
University of South Florida epidemiologist Dr. Jason Salemi said he finds the department’s defense credible.
“Undoubtedly, the Department of Health has been reporting this information,” said Salemi. “My suspicion is, maybe the Department of Health didn’t even know it wasn’t being updated until they were finally informed.”
Smith said that even with the county-by-county death data now available, his lawsuit will still go forward. That’s because he’s seeking detailed demographic breakdowns on the county level for hospitalizations, cases and deaths.
“Some of these specific breakdowns, particularly by age, are very important as our kids are returning to school,” said Smith.
Salemi and Smith both agree that more data is never a bad thing.
“There’s always going to be somebody who wants more and more data, and I’m one of those people,” said Salemi.
Smith’s lawsuit is scheduled for a hearing Monday afternoon.
The Department of Health had no comment regarding the case.