In just eight months, Florida's 2021 COVID-19 death toll has surpassed 2020 total
- More people have died so far this year from COVID-19 in Florida than in all of 2020, making the disease the third leading cause of death in the state, according to a Department of Health report released on Friday.
- The report said cumulative COVID deaths have reached 43,979 Florida residents as of Aug. 26.
- With deaths last year recorded at 21,673, the latest data means that in less than nine months this year, 22,306 people died of COVID-19 or COVID-related complications, outpacing the number of dead in the last calendar year.
More people have died so far this year from COVID-19 in Florida than in all of 2020, making the disease the third leading cause of death in the state, according to a Department of Health report released on Friday.
The report said cumulative COVID deaths have reached 43,979 Florida residents as of Aug. 26. With deaths last year recorded at 21,673, the latest data means that in less than nine months this year, 22,306 people died of COVID-19 or COVID-related complications, outpacing the number of dead in the last calendar year. The first deaths from the pandemic in Florida were recorded in the first week of March 2020 and totaled 21,673 by Dec. 31, 2020.
The death toll from COVID has become a hot political issue in the state ever since the DOH stopped publishing data on a county-by-county basis in June. Moreover, Gov. Ron DeSantis has on multiple occasions pointed to Florida’s death rate, which was long better than the national average, to show that his administration was doing better than other states with mask mandates and lockdowns.
Now that track record is coming under greater scrutiny as a growing number of researchers, scientists, public health experts and politicians are questioning Florida's handling of the latest wave of the crisis.
According to Dr. S. Vincent Rajkumar, a professor at the Mayo Clinic quoted by the Orlando Sentinel over the weekend, Florida is the first state in which daily deaths in the current delta variant fueled surge have exceeded deaths in previous waves.
Making the matter more confusing for researchers, the calendar year doesn't exactly represent the reality of when people actually died, and Florida hasn't always readily provided those stats in a timely manner. The COVID death data tends to lag a few weeks from when they really happen to when they land on FDOH's reports. That applies to this year's data, too.
The known numbers from the DOH, however, clearly show that COVID looks to remain 3rd leading cause of death in Florida, behind heart disease and cancer.
In Brevard County, local DOH officials told a local news conference on Aug. 20, that 1,156 died during the whole pandemic, an increase so far this year of at least 633 deaths. But last week, county officials muddied the water by saying at the weekly Space Coast briefing that the number of deaths in Brevard had tripled since early summer.
Every week, the Florida Department of Health releases a "COVID-19 Weekly Situation Report: State Overview." Unlike the daily reports that stopped being released in June, these reports only show the overall state death counts not county level counts.
State health officials also have been reluctant to explain why their math so often doesn't add up. Their Aug. 27 report, for example, says 43,979 total deaths since the start of the pandemic; and 389 deaths between Aug. 20 and Aug. 26. But their previous Aug.20 report showed 42,252 cumulative deaths, a difference of 1,727 deaths — more than four times the weekly death count reported.
On Friday, State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, requested Brevard County Health Department release the data showing weekly COVID-19 deaths. Although, it's only been one business day, the data has not yet been released.
Having nuanced county-level data that includes the death count is important for surveillance, health experts say.
The World Health Organization states, "Ongoing surveillance for COVID-19 is also important to understand longer term epidemiological trends, such as incidence and mortality among different age groups, which population groups are at higher risk for severe disease and death and potential epidemiological changes over time."
According to numbers released by the DOH and collated by various groups, the state Florida had the nation’s second highest seven-day COVID death rate as of last Friday. The New York Times COVID-19 database reported 1.15 deaths for every 100,000 people in Florida, well above the national rate of 0.39.
But only six months ago, in March, Florida ranked 27th in the country for per capita deaths for the entire coronavirus pandemic. The data prompted DeSantis to boast on several occasions, right up until the deaths began spiking in June and July, that Florida's death toll was lower than other states taking more strident actions to confront the disease.
DeSantis has opposed mask mandates and vaccine passports, among other measures, instead emphasizing individual action and treatments to fight the virus. The governor's office has touted his scientific approach to managing the pandemic.
Last week, however, a Florida court found that DeSantis was not following the lawwhen he signed an executive order banning mask mandates in schools and said that he had overstepped his authority in doing so. The decision is expected to face an appeal.