A Yahoo News story falsely claimed that a new study found Florida was undercounting COVID-19 deaths.
The Yahoo story, written by national correspondent Alexander Nazaryan, claimed that Florida falsely categorized nearly 5,000 excess deaths, citing a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. However, the authors of that study told National Review the Yahoo framing of their findings is incorrect.
“Florida is undercounting the number of people who died from COVID-19 by thousands of cases, casting new doubt on claims that Gov. Ron DeSantis navigated the coronavirus pandemic successfully,” wrote Nazaryan. “In the case of Florida, the researchers say, 4,924 excess deaths should have been counted as resulting from COVID-19 but for the most part were ruled as having been caused by something else, thus lowering Florida’s coronavirus fatality count.”
The study’s lead author, Moosa Tatar, said the Yahoo story’s conclusion was incorrect because the researchers did not yet know for sure how many excess deaths were attributable to COVID-19. “The impact of COVID-19 on mortality is significantly greater than the official COVID-19 data suggest. But we need further research to determine specific reasons for this,” he told National Review.
Numerous experts told Nazaryan his interpretation of the data was incorrect. Cited in the Yahoo story itself, associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health Dan Weinberger said Florida’s excess death count was average. (RELATED: A Weepy CDC Director Insists America Is Facing ‘Doom.’ Do The Facts Match The Hysteria?)
Nazaryan didn’t fact check his claim that Florida is the 2nd most populous state. It’s 3rd.
But either way, this fact makes Florida’s COVID response look BETTER. pic.twitter.com/YkKycQCQFv
— Max Eagle (@MaxNordau) March 30, 2021
University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi told Yahoo its characterization of excess deaths as COVID-19 deaths that were going uncounted was inaccurate, and that Florida’s numbers were “middle-of-the-pack.” CDC researcher Lauren Rossen agreed, telling Yahoo that “Florida doesn’t stand out to me.”
Despite soliciting those quotes from researchers, Nazaryan implied that Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis may have had a hand in the undercounting: “People who die from COVID-19 often have comorbidities, such as diabetes and asthma. That leaves some discretion for medical examiners, who have sometimes struggled with conflicting science and been subject to political pressures during the pandemic … In Florida, the state’s 25 district medical examiners are directly appointed by the governor. Last spring, the DeSantis administration was accused of trying to keep those medical examiners from releasing complete coronavirus data.”
The Yahoo article was shared by political opponents of DeSantis. Nazaryan’s error appeared to be caused by a misunderstanding of “excess deaths.”
An excess death does not necessarily have to be caused by a COVID-19 infection. It could be the result of delaying medical care due to the pandemic, losing insurance after being laid off due to the economic impact of the virus, or some other indirect source. As a result, it cannot be said that all 4,924 excess deaths in Florida were caused directly by COVID-19.
Excess deaths are also a projection, not an exact count. The number is calculated by comparing the expected number of deaths in a given place and time period versus the actual number of deaths that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.