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Florida is ablaze with COVID-19—and its case data reporting is a hot mess

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A man in a suit gestures while speaking at a podium
Enlarge / Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during an event on August 10, 2021.

With the hypertransmissible delta variant on the rampage, Florida has become the epicenter of transmission in the US. The state is experiencing its largest surge of COVID-19 cases yet in the pandemic. Hospitalizations have reached record levels, and deaths are on the rise.

But instead of focusing on the response to the dire public health emergency, state officials appear to be squabbling over pandemic data and health measures.

On Monday night, Florida’s health department blasted media outlets for reporting the state’s most recent daily COVID-19 cases counts—as the counts were relayed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC, which gets its data from Florida’s health department, reported that the state had recorded all-time highs of nearly 24,000 new cases on August 6 and over 28,000 daily new cases on both August 7 and August 8. But the health department, which doesn’t actually publish its own daily case numbers, disputed the CDC’s numbers. According to the health department’s Twitter account, the state had only logged 21,500 cases on August 6, 19,567 cases on August 7, and 15,319 on August 8. The health department claimed that the CDC had split three days’ worth of new case totals across only two days in error.

Federal response

On Tuesday, the CDC updated the case counts for the disputed days—but the counts were still higher than what the Florida health department claimed on Twitter. The CDC still reports that Florida recorded nearly 24,000 new daily cases August 6, but only 21,487 on August 7 and 19,584 on August 8. The CDC now also reports that the Sunshine State had 15,322 new cases on August 9.

Overall, the new numbers adjusted the CDC’s calculation of the state’s seven-day rolling average of new daily cases on August 8 from roughly 22,500 to 20,000. Those averages are still all-time highs for the state.

As many people on Twitter pointed out, this dust-up could have been avoided if Florida simply reported its own daily data. The state stopped doing that June 4, as cases were on the decline and vaccines had become readily available.

Though the state of the pandemic has changed dramatically, things (besides the sluggish data reporting) in Florida haven’t. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is still battling with local leaders and businesses over his bans on vaccination passports and mask mandates in schools.

While several Florida school districts have gone ahead with plans to mandate masks for staff and students—who are largely unvaccinated—DeSantis has fired back. On Monday, he threatened to withhold pay for superintendents and school board members who defied his mask mandate ban.

Superintendents and school board members are already fighting back. After officials on Florida’s Broward County school board voted 8 to 1 Tuesday to keep a mask mandate, one board member told DeSantis to “bring it.”

In a White House press briefing Tuesday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki suggested that any pay withheld from school officials for instituting mask mandates could be compensated with federal funds. She also addressed DeSantis directly, echoing a point made by President Joe Biden earlier, saying: “If you’re not interested in following the public health guidelines to protect the lives of people in your state… then get out of the way.”



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