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Florida curtails reporting of coronavirus death numbers by county medical examiners

Florida health officials have halted the publication of up-to-the-minute death statistics related to the coronavirus pandemic that have, by law, been compiled by medical examiners in the state.

The death count compiled by the Medical Examiners Commission was often found to be higher than the figures provided by Florida’s Department of Health, the Tampa Bay Times reported, prompting a review of the data and a suspension of its publication.

State officials have not specified what they find objectionable about the medical examiners’ count, nor when they might allow it to be made public again, the Times said.

According to the state Department of Health, 34,728 people in Florida have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and 1,337 people have died from it, as of Friday morning.

Dr. Stephen Nelson, chairman of the state Medical Examiners Commission, told the Tampa Bay Times that state officials informed him that they would remove the cause of death and a description of each case from statistics published by the examiners.

“This is no different than any other public record we deal with,” Nelson said. “It’s paid for by taxpayer dollars and the taxpayers have a right to know.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday that the state would begin lifting coronavirus restrictions for some businesses everywhere but Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, which have been particularly hard hit by the virus.

“These counties have seen the lion’s share of the state’s epidemic,” DeSantis said, “but they are trending in a positive direction.”

The day before DeSantis’s order, Florida reported 83 deaths from COVID-19, the highest number to date. On Friday the state reported another 47 deaths and 1,038 new cases of COVID-19.

Fewer than 2 percent of Florida’s 21.5 million residents have been tested for the virus, the Miami Herald reported on Friday. Of residents who have been tested, 9 percent have come back positive for the virus, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

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