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Florida Says It Will Give More Scrutiny To COVID-19 Deaths

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures during a news conference at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures during a news conference at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida plans to more closely scrutinize deaths attributed to the coronavirus, as the Department of Health notes that some people listed as COVID-19 fatalities died months after testing positive for the disease.

"Fatality data reported to the state consistently presents confusion and warrants a more rigorous review. Of the 95 fatalities reported to the state yesterday, 16 had more than a two-month separation between the time the individuals tested positive and passed away, and 11 of the deaths occurred more than a month ago," the Department of Health said in a press release late Wednesday.

The state will not backtrack to reexamine the more than 16,000 deaths attributed to the virus, but rather take a closer look at deaths going forward, Fred Piccolo, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, said Thursday.

And the state won't immediately discount people who tested positive for coronavirus and died weeks afterwards, recognizing the virus may have caused damage that contributed to the death, Piccolo said. But he said that the state wants to filter out people who tested positive and died from an unrelated cause.

"We want to be as accurate as possible. I don't think it will have a massive affect on the numbers," Piccolo said.

Florida reported more than 5,500 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, raising the seven-day average in daily reported cases to about 3,300. That's about 1,000 more per day since the beginning of the month.

The Florida Department of Health also confirmed 57 new deaths, bringing the death toll to 16,470.

The rates of positive tests also have been ticking upward in recent days, with close to 7% percent of test-takers positive in numbers reported Thursday. That compared with figures closer to 5% in early October.

Hospitalizations for the disease, however, have remained roughly stable over the past month, with between 2,000 and 2,200 being treated in Florida hospitals, according to a state online census of hospital beds.

Those figures compare with peaks of close to 10,000 in late July.

Thursday's 5,558 cases bring the state's known total of COVID-19 cases to 768,091 since March.

The Department of Health changed death reporting procedures late last summer. The state previously had county medical examiners confirm COVID-19 deaths, but then switched to having treating physicians do so. Treating physicians and funeral homes coordinate to report the deaths to the state.

The department previously has given guidance on excluding coronavirus deaths if someone who tested positive died for another reason.

"A death should be excluded if an alternative cause of death can fully explain their cause of death," a department memo says. That includes trauma, suicide, homicide, overdose, motor-vehicle accident and similar fatalities.

On Thursday, DeSantis said he is also expanding visitation to nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

He previously lifted a ban on visitation, but left intact some restrictions. He now says children should be able to visit residents. He also lifted a limit on the number of visitors residents can have and eased restrictions on outdoor visitation.

"I think there's something about when people are happier, when their spirits are higher, when their families are involved. I think the staff performs better, I think it's just a better mix," DeSantis said. "The families have just been universally been very, very happy with being able to be reunited with their loved ones."

The Associated Press is a wire service to which WUFT News subscribes.