Issues & Insights

Florida Is A Case Study In Media-Induced COVID-19 Panic

Florida Dept of Health

I&I Editorial

What do all these news accounts have in common?

“Florida Sets Yet Another Coronavirus Record: 173 Deaths In A Day.”

“A record 173 Floridians died from the virus Thursday, an average of more than one every eight minutes.” 

“The 134 new confirmed deaths is the second-largest increase on record, coming five days after the largest one-day jump of 156 last week.”

“COVID-19 has ravaged Florida, with more than 237,000 people testing positive and 2,013 dying from the virus in July alone.”

So what characteristic do all of the reports share? They are all false.

It is not true that 173 people died from COVID-19 “in a day” in Florida. Nor did 134, or 156 on previous days.

It is also untrue than 2,013 had died in July when that story was published. 

All of these scary headlines are based on the number of deaths reported by the state on any given day. This is not the same as the number of deaths that occurred on those days.

The difference might seem trivial. But it’s crucial because the press is using the timing of Florida’s death reports to whip up a frenzy about COVID-19 running riot in the state.

Take a look at the chart below. The blue bars are the number of deaths reported in four days last week. Notice the sharp uphill climb? That’s the story the press has been telling.

But those deaths didn’t occur on those days. In fact, the vast majority of them occurred days, or even weeks, before. The actual date of these deaths is indicated by the orange bars.

In fact, as of Sunday, the biggest one-day death toll so far in the state happened back on July 16, when 114 are known to have died. And when the press was claiming that 2,013 had died in July, the actual number of known deaths was 1,847.

As we noted in this space last week, this distortion is being repeated by the media in state after state that has seen a recent spike in coronavirus cases. While deaths attributed to coronavirus have increased, the “surge” is a fiction because many of those deaths happened earlier.

But almost no news outlet explains this difference clearly to readers. The Miami Herald is one exception.

In a recent story, it noted — after shouting about hitting a new record for daily deaths — that “the 173 deaths …. does not necessarily mean that every person died in the past 24 hours. In Florida, the deaths announced on a given day could be from several days earlier because the state information does not include the exact date of death.”

But even the Herald didn’t have to leave readers guessing as to how many of those 173 died in the previous 24 hours. Florida’s COVID-19 tracking site had it right on the main page. Of the 173 reported, the number of people who actually died that day was … 19.

This is only one of the problems with the death counts being shouted from the media rooftops.

Here again, Florida serves as a model of how to sow fear.

First there’s the missing context.

While 173 deaths reported in a single day sounds like a lot, it pales in comparison to the peak reached in New York and New Jersey earlier this spring.

New York’s reported deaths topped 1,000 on more than one day in April. That’s in a state with 9% fewer people than Florida.

New Jersey’s peak was 523 on April 20. That’s three times the current “record” set in Florida — in a state that has 59% fewer residents.

Another way to look at it is that the death rate in Florida at the moment is 273 per million residents. In New York, it’s 1,680 and in New Jersey it’s 1,785.

In other words, the current situation in Florida is nothing at all like what happened in the northeast in the spring. Yet that critical information never gets conveyed by the press.

Another bit of missing context is where these deaths are occurring.

Of the more than 5,000 coronavirus deaths in Florida, 45% of them involved residents and staff at long-term care facilities.

That’s not to say these deaths are less important. But it does provide a needed backdrop for everyone else in the state. Their risk is tiny by comparison.

This finding also shows that what’s needed most is to protect at-risk populations, something that the generalized lockdowns failed to do. Pretending that coronavirus “doesn’t discriminate” is a dangerous fiction.

Then there’s the fact that Florida’s death count is almost certainly inflated because the state is counting people who died with the virus, not just those who died because of it.

A report by CBS-12 in West Palm Beach, for example, found that the state has counted as coronavirus deaths:

A 60-year-old man who died from a gunshot wound to the head. 

A 90-year-old man who fell and died from complications of a hip fracture. 

A 77-year-old woman who died of Parkinson’s disease. 

Out of 581 deaths attributed to coronavirus in that county, “The I-Team found eight cases in which a person was counted as a COVID death, but did not have COVID listed as a contributing cause of death.”

What’s more, only 169 deaths were listed as due to coronavirus without any other contributing factors.

(As a side note, why is a local TV news team digging into the numbers, while the national media are content to repeat whatever the government tells them?)

As we’ve said before, this sort of overcounting is going on nationwide, largely because the CDC has told states to report deaths this way.

The question that deserves to be answered is why the mainstream press seems so willing and eager to whip up fear, rather than provide all the relevant facts, in context, so the public can make its own informed decisions about how to respond to this disease.

— Written by the I&I Editorial Board

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33 comments

  • First, and most important, I can’t praise your team enough for the professional and wide-ranging analysis you produce. I really look forward to seeing your name in the in box.

    But . . .

    I really don’t understand your numbers. You write:
    1.) “In fact, as of Sunday, the biggest one-day death toll so far in the state occurred back on July 16, when 114 are known to have died.” But the attached chart shows the number as 30.

    2.) “And when the press was claiming that 2,013 had died in July, the actual number of known deaths was 1,847.” But the chart shows nowhere near that many, 458.

    3.) “Of the more than 5,000 coronavirus deaths in Florida . . .” March, April, May , and June totalled 4,500 deaths?

    4.) “Out of 581 deaths attributed to coronavirus . . .” Not 458, not 5,000. I learned this was counting only Palm Beach County, but I had to look up the original report. It would have helped to know that.

    Anyway, great work in general. Doubtless, the confusion is my fault.

    • Thanks for the feedback. The chart is *not* showing total deaths each day in the state, but only when the 531 deaths the state reported over the course of four days last week actually occurred. The 581 deaths were for Palm Beach County. We’ve updated the article to make that more clear.

      • One important stat that is not discussed much is the case fatality rate, which nationally continues to decline as more cases are diagnosed without deaths keeping pace. As a point of comparison with regards Florida and how it is continually hammered in the press, their CFR is 1.38%. Every state in the north-east is orders of magnitude higher than that, (CT-9.05%, NJ-8.57%, NY-7.43%, MA-7.38%, PA-6.43%, NH-6.35%, RI-5.5%, DC-4.91%, and the state run by the most draconian governor, MI is 7.39%). That tells us something about how the state is handling those who test positive.

  • I consider the current reporting on Covid testing a sham! I live in a state where a lot of this phony reporting is going on, and it is terrifying people. There can be no excuse for misreporting deaths. Someone who develops pneumonia because he has emphysema actually dies because of his emphysema which brought on pneumonia. You could say that someone who has a heart attack while driving a car died of a heart attack, but you can’t say that someone who has covid died of it while driving a car. In both cases they were in an auto accident, but only the heart attack victim possibly died BECAUSE of his heart attack! The covid carrier died because of the auto accident and not because of covid. Blunt force trauma is what killed him! He may also have had liver disease or lung disease but it was the auto accident that killed him. The reporting on these figures is disgraceful!

  • The Left are determined to destroy Trump even if it mean destroying this country. In fact, they’ll see that as 2 birds with 1 stone. Shamefil.

    • Thank you for your report. As high risk seniors my husband and I have been petrified of catching the virus. The media seems to be stirring the pot for ratings and sadly due to political reasons. This reminds me scare stories about hurricanes in Florida and blizzards up north…quite shameful actually!

    • Trump and republicans have done a good deal of US destruction by themselves. 2 wars, 2 economic recessions, millions dead due to war, COVID, and diseases due to horrible healthcare.

  • The same thing would be happening with cases then. If it takes 2 weeks in many places to get a positive result, then 2 weeks from now we’d see a surge and demand more facemasks, gloves, and nose plug or something, when the case count is actually going down and won’t be reflected for another two weeks, with health tyrants declaring victory for noseplugs or whatever the next talisman is.

  • I have sent this to my local newspaper editor, just the latest in a string of daily emails I have sent to him under the subject: “How about a story on this Pat?”. If you can – adopt this practice and flood local newspapers with articles telling the truth. Your community deserves better than what you are getting from your local press.

  • The Herald is the only major newspaper in Florida which, on occasion, actually prints the factual truth. The rest, including The Tampa Bay Times, the only daily newspaper left in the entire Tampa Bay area, are echo chambers of the NY Times and Washington Post. They all promoted Andrew Gillum for governor, and immediately started attacking Governor DeSantis from the day he took office. He was President Trump’s choice for governor, which made him a newspaper public enemy.

    • Agree. We used to call Orlando’s paper the Slantinel back in the 80’s. It’s only gone downhill from there. There are no actual journalists working there anymore….basically an online regurgitation factory.

  • I blame our politicians in the GOP for letting this China Flu narrative run wild. First Trump allowed a Hillary sycophant Dr. Fauci to be the front person on this issue. A trained monkey throwing darts could of been more accurate in the predictions. Then you have no national standard for the test itself, each state is allowed to use their own perimeters of what meets a “positive” result. Not to mention the inferior test itself….most are not a “Covid test” but a test that can pick up any corona virus such as the common cold.

    Investigative reporting like this one are starting to gain steam, it will clearly show we have been hoodwinked and made to suffer at the hands of our incompetent leaders and elite.

  • As always, figures lie and liars figure. We will NEVER know how many people actually died of the virus. You knew that from day one when the CDC said count even suspected cases. The CDC and Fauci have been complicit in ruining our economy and scaring the sheep to death all in the goal of making our President look powerless. Lies after lies and more damn lies in this past 4 months. So tired of all the BS. Is the virus real, yes. Will it kill, yes. Will a vaccine stop it? No, even Fauci said that. It will only be about 60-70% effective just like the current flu vaccines. Covid will be here for a long time and no vaccine, face mask or social distancing will change that. What is changing is herd immunity. I call all the rest of the crap flowing from the mouths of so called experts BS.

  • I have been told by a very reliable source that in my state many deaths are counted as Covid deaths where Covid had absolutely nothing to do with it. Sounds political to me.

  • Your chart totals 534 deaths, which you state occur in days before when they were reported. But if I add all the orange totals, they are 70 deaths lighter than the blue bars. What gives?

  • So all the deaths occurred, but not distributed as reported? I don’t think that lessens the severity at all.

  • The MSM has no interest in the virus other than creating a public panic that will keep the economy at a stand still as long as it takes to get the Democrat Party the power they seek. Being the media division of that party, the ends justify the means and human life – white, black, old, young – has no meaning.

  • The CDC was created right after World War II, as an outgrowth of the national defense Malaria control program and so has been at the forefront of disease management for 70+ years. It currently has an annual budget of $6 Billion. If in over seven decades and over a hundred billion dollars spent there is still no way to accurately account for disease rates and deaths, then the CDC is a failure, the head of the CDC should resign in disgrace, and the US should start from scratch.

  • Corona Virus reporting is just the tip of the iceburg when it comes to corruption in most of the press. Publishing stories they know to be lies are commonplace today. Media does not seek to impart correct information. It is propaganda pure and simple. The disgust the media has for Trump justifies this corruption in their minds. They can never allow another Trump to be elected. So every story is distorted through the lens of how can this story hurt Trump. That is why they report numbers they know to be untrue. It supports their narrative – Trump is responsible for every case of Corona Virus. And this rampant media corruption is just multiplied by the big social media companies that manipulate “news” articles to fit their political agenda. If it hurts Trump, you will see it in your search. If it doesn’t, it is hidden on page 24 of your search. It is all designed to give the Democrats the power they need to never lose another election. End the Electoral College. Pack the Supreme Court. End the Senate Filibuster. End border enforcement and make millions of new citizens (who will vote Democrat). Ask California how that one party government is working for them. Democrats have destroyed the most beautiful state in the country. They have made it impossible to live your life free.

  • Thank for an excellent critical review of the data, something sorely lacking in the lib media. I think it is also necessary to probe the motivation for the misreporting. A huge potential for fraud was introduced by the CARES Act, which provides $100 billion in relief funds, including to hospitals and other health care providers on the front lines of the COVID-19 response, and the PPPHCEA, which appropriated an additional $75 billion in relief funds. Within the Provider Relief Fund, a portion of the funding will be used to support healthcare-related expenses attributable to the treatment of uninsured individuals with COVID-19. According to the website, only if the test comes out positive is the visit reimbursable unless there was a diagnosis of COVID in the hospital admission. There is a 20% add on for COVID diagnosis. The very language of the rules appear to promote fraud. Hospitals have a huge motivation to call everything COVID, I think this needs to be investigated more seriously.

  • Thank you for focusing on media attempts to induce panic, which I believe is real. While “deaths reported” on a particular day is –without more– obviously a meaningless stat, I’m having trouble seeing that the chart demonstrates a lack of a surge in deaths (and maybe it is not intended to show that).

    The difference (and growing difference!) between the orange and blue numbers at the right-hand side of the chart look suspicious at first glance: Why is the ratio of deaths to reported deaths 4:1 for 7/20, but decreases to only 1:9 for 7/23? But isn’t the likely reason (or at least, a reason) for this simply that we don’t know how many deaths occurred on a particular day until some time well after that date? And that when numbers are finalized, that trend might disappear? At first glance, I interpreted the chart to say that the 90 deaths reported on 7/20 includes the 72 that occurred that day, but the chart doesn’t actually say that (and I suspect it is not the case.)

    Isn’t it possible that each day’s report includes only a small portion of the deaths that are ultimately established to have happened on that date — and that delay in availability of information renders analysis of very recent days’ numbers questionable?

  • We already know the media are virtually all anti-Trump. That’s a given.
    By spiking (falsely) the virus positives, they have effectively cancelled the GOP convention in Florida.
    We already know about the MC rider killed in a crash who was listed as a covid death. I’m sure he is only a small part of the deaths falsely listed as covid.

  • The weasel word “cases” is also very misleading. If you have been exposed and have developed antibodies or t-cells and are thus immune – you are a “case”. If you have visited an indoor location that has recorded positive exposures – you are a “case”. If you appear in some laughable “contact tracing” report, you are a “case”. If the very unsophisticated “test” shows a “positive” (it cannot distinguish between the Wuhan Flu and any of the other thousands of related corona viruses), you are a “case”. This is all Kubuki theater designed to harm the second-best president ever – and intelligent people have seen right through it.

  • I live in Fla and believe that the media is overhyping the severity of covid. some states report the number of patients who have “recovered” from covid, but Fla has not. Florida, and many other states, just report the cumulative totals which continues to make people think this disease is just spreading like wildfire.

  • My question is, does Florida report the deaths in the way the blue bars in the graph depict, or does the reporting outlet do that?

    Maybe the state should report the data in ways that are unambiguous and that can’t be willfully misinterpreted by news outlets. Surely, they must be aware that this is going on, and would want to correct the misimpression.

  • You base the whole article on the fact that deaths are delayed but ignore that on, for instance, the current day when you say there are so few deaths, there will be deaths added later because of a lag in reporting time. So while your chart has 19 dying on the last day, those will increase as reporting comes in.

    • The article specifically mentions that delay and how it will affect the numbers going forward.

  • The government can’t even count deaths correctly, how in the world are they going to count mail-in ballots?!?!?!?!?

  • This means we are likely to see an increase in the July numbers one month from now. If there are cases taking several weeks to be processed, it means the numbers we have for the past few days are also not reliable – they are undercounted. Hopefully, when the numbers for those days do arrive, they will be small.

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