For months, critics of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) have suggested that his administration is underreporting the effects of the coronavirus pandemic in his state. The high-profile firing of (and subsequent investigation into) Florida’s top data manager contributed to such questions. Shortly before the 2020 election — in which DeSantis’s political ally, President Donald Trump, was being judged in part on his pandemic response — the state’s reported death numbers suddenly dropped.
DeSantis’s habit of leaning into criticism from his political opponents has heightened scrutiny of how the pandemic is unfolding in his state. But, overall, the numbers from Florida aren’t much different from other places, muddying efforts to cast DeSantis as incompetent or nefarious.
Given all of that, it’s not surprising that a report from Yahoo News alleging that the number of deaths reported in the state was undercounted was embraced by the governor’s critics. Former governor (and former Republican) Charlie Crist, who’s exploring a run for his old job, declared on Twitter that DeSantis “was likely hiding thousands of positive COVID cases,” linking to the article.
The Yahoo report points to research published in the American Journal of Public Health earlier this month that suggests that the “impact of COVID-19” — the disease caused by the coronavirus — “on mortality is significantly greater than the official COVID-19 data suggest.” That assessment derives from analysis of Florida’s excess-death count, the number of deaths recorded in the state that exceeded recent annual averages. Imagine if Florida had seen 1,000 deaths on average in the first week of January in 2017 through 2020. Then, in 2021, the number of deaths jumped to 1,250. That shift, those excess deaths, would suggest that something unusual happened.
Dropped into a political debate, that conclusion seems to support the argument that Crist makes: DeSantis is hiding the true death toll.
Considered in the broader context of the national pandemic, as it should be, it doesn’t. Read more…