Rebekah Jones, the controversial former Florida Department of Health employee, has made news again by creating her own dashboard. Interested parties in news media have picked up on her self-created model and the fact that it points to slightly higher cases than the state’s site. This is all on top of the fact that we’ve had a huge increase in cases over the past week as Florida is struggling with its worst stretch of coronavirus cases yet. But here’s the thing. Florida’s cases are under-reported, as are every state’s for that matter. On a few occasions throughout the pandemic, I’ve addressed the topic of excess deaths. A metric that accounts for the average deaths a population experiences during normal times. This metric picks up on what’s real without any consideration for how many people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have been determined to be killed by it.
The term excess deaths applies to deadly events like pandemics and how they are generally the most effective way to know what the true impact is on society. The “excess deaths” metric uses a five-year average of death rates and adjusts for population changes. The CDC keeps up to date records of excess deaths. The week of March 22nd was the first week the United States recorded excess deaths since January of 2018. From that week through May 30th, there were 105,793 recorded COVID-19 deaths in the US. According to CDC data, however, there were 116,346 excess deaths. This means the average under-reporting of COVID-19 cases and deaths has been about 10%. This means Florida has had approximately 7,700 more cases of COVID-19 than have been diagnosed and approximately 294 more deaths. Logic comes into play here. It makes sense that not everyone who’s had the virus would be diagnosed and thus not everyone who’s died due to complications is known either.
mentioned there was good news. The latest data that's available from the CDC is the week that ended May 30th. That was the first week the US didn’t have excess deaths since the week ended March 21st. In other words, whether people were dying of the virus or not, death totals weren’t higher than normal. This suggests the people dying of COVID-19 most recently would have likely died of something else if not the virus. Now here’s the wildcard. The spike in cases in Florida and across the country has come within the last two weeks. That data’s not available yet. If by the next update excess deaths stay down, we’ve likely turned the corner regardless of how many diagnosed cases pop up.
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