As skepticism and frustration continues to grow over the pandemic in South Florida, it’s becoming more important to provide empirical data than ever before. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve periodically provided the CDC’s “excess death” data as a reason to provide perspective about the reality of the virus. As I illustrated in last Tuesday’s Q&A, starting in April, there are 16% more Floridians who have died than ordinarily would have during the same period of time. This data is important because it isn’t tied to any COVID-19 testing or death classifications.
The CDC’s “excess death” metric, measures a five-year average for total deaths and adjusts for population changes. If no one had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and if no Floridian was ever listed as a COVID death, the stats would be the same. According to the CDC, data is incomplete for at least eight weeks as there’s a lag from deaths occurring and all death certificates being issued. This means the week ended May 23rd, is the most recent which contains mostly complete information for Florida. Let’s look at what we’ve learned using this CDC data.
First of all, the first week Florida experienced excess deaths is shown to be April 4th. Second, Florida’s experienced excess deaths for every week with complete data since. During that eight-week period, Florida was expected to have 32,896 deaths. The actual total was 35,576, resulting in 2,276 excess deaths. On May 23rd the total number of coronavirus deaths reported by the Florida Department of Health was 2,233. This data illustrates Florida’s official tallies underreported related deaths by approximately 2%.
It stands to reason that not all people ill with COVID-19 have been tested and therefore not all related deaths diagnosed either. What I can tell you, is that even in subsequent weeks with incomplete data the trends are similar. Are there apparent irregularities in reporting occasionally? Yes. Are there opportunities for double-counting, especially with antibody tests, Yes. Is it possible some people who passed away would have died of something else if not the virus? Yes. But on balance, we have a net underdiagnosis of COVID-19 positive tests in Florida of around 2% for the complete information to date. By objective measures, the totals you hear and see by the Florida Department of Health are actually slightly understated.
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