Months of secrecy end as state releases COVID death toll for every county

South Florida Sun Sentinel

Sep 14, 2021 4:07 PM

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For the first time in months, Floridians could learn Tuesday just how deadly the newest COVID wave has been in their communities, including a brutal toll in South Florida.

Some 2,900 people succumbed to the coronavirus in South Florida during the 99 days between June 5 and Sept 12 — an average of 29 every day, according to a report released Tuesday, the first county-by-county breakdown since the state clamped down on the information in June.

The deaths included 631 people in Palm Beach County, 1,011 in Broward and 1,258 in Miami Dade. The tri-county area accounted for about a quarter of the 11,799 deaths statewide during the summer, according to the report.

Northern and Central Florida — with lower vaccination rates — may have been hit even harder, based on population.

For example, 514 people died for every 1 million residents in Broward County, the highest rate among Florida’s large counties, the report shows. But the smaller Brevard and Duval counties had more than 800 deaths per 1 million residents.

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The Florida Department of Health had reported county death tolls each day throughout the pandemic, before switching to weekly reporting in early June after saying the COVID-19 crisis had abated. But the state never reported the data again once case counts surged over the summer.

The state has been detailing new cases and vaccination rates by county in its weekly COVID situation report on Fridays, but it does not include local deaths, only a statewide total. Until now, federal websites reflected incomplete death information for Florida’s counties as well.

The state’s secrecy made it nearly impossible to learn the local effect of the worst wave of the pandemic.

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When the agency stopped sharing the data, public health experts expressed concern, arguing that local-level pandemic information helps Floridians make better daily life decisions about wearing masks, social distancing and attending events.

Health officials did not explain Tuesday why they made the information available after months of requests from the media and county leaders.

Dr. Jason Salemi, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida, tracks COVID-19 in Florida and discovered the release of the county-level death data on Tuesday. He said he believes the information represents a reliable representation of new deaths. “My hope is that the information will be updated on a routine basis now,” he said.

Although new cases have been declining, Florida’s COVID death count has continued to rise. Experts believe it could level off by the end of the month.

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