The Florida Health Department is firing back at The Miami Herald over its recent coverage of the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
On Tuesday, the Herald ran a front-page story with the headline “Florida changed its COVID-19 data, creating an ‘artificial decline’ in recent deaths,” alleging that the DeSantis administration was changing its methodology in counting COVID deaths in order to bury damning data amid the Delta variant surge.
Several media critics and political opponents of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis have shared the story on social media, including CNN contributor Ana Navarro, the disgraced anti-Trump group The Lincoln Project, and Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried.
Later that evening, the Florida Health Department issued a lengthy statement hoping to “set the record straight” on the “false data claims” published by the Herald, slamming its new report in addition to a “misleading” article from last Friday that suggested Florida recorded 901 COVID deaths in a single day.
“These narratives surrounding ‘artificial decline’ and ‘jump’ contradict one another, are patently false, and have zero credibility,” FHD stated. “COVID-19, and public health in general, should never be politicized. Publications like the Miami Herald have a duty to their readers, and to all Floridians, to report on the pandemic in a factual and objective manner.”
The FHD then listed several “Myths vs. Facts” based on the Herald’s reporting, beginning by tackling the paper’s “completely incorrect” headline.
“Florida reports COVID-19 deaths by date of death for precision, accuracy, and transparency in public communications,” FHD wrote before citing an epidemiologist in the Herald’s report who acknowledged, “Deaths by date of death curve is the most accurate you can get … You know exactly when people died, you know how to construct the curve and exactly when we were experiencing surges in terms of deaths.”
“Updating already provisional data does not create an ‘artificial decline,’ nor does it distort the data. These are the deaths as they occurred by date. The fact that these data are provisional is made clear by both DOH reports and the data displayed by the CDC. This ensures that the most accurate data are provided to the public. As the Miami Herald article reported, many other states report COVID-19 deaths the same way Florida does,” the health department continued. “As many epidemiologists and informed health professionals would know, there is an inherent lag when deaths are reported to the Department from external sources. That is why relying on date of death, rather than date reported, is the most accurate representation of COVID-19 trends and surveillance.”
“We encourage you and your viewers to examine the story and the graphics with it, which speak for themselves,” Miami Herald managing editor Rick Hirsch told Fox News. “They were built with the Department of Health’s own data, and DOH knows this. We showed our methodology and data definitions, the very thing the DOH has declined to do. The state is free to click on the tabs and challenge our methodology, but thus far it hasn’t.”
Last week, The Miami Herald ran a jarring headline, “Florida COVID update: 901 added deaths, largest single-day increase in pandemic history.”
However, while the headline indicates that the 901 COVID deaths mark the state’s “largest single-day increase” in CDC data, the reality is that those 901 deaths did not occur in a single day.
“Florida on Thursday reported 21,765 more COVID-19 cases and 901 deaths to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Miami Herald calculations of CDC data,” the report began. “All but two of the newly reported deaths occurred after July 25, with about 78% of those people dying in the past two weeks, according to Herald calculations of data published by the CDC. The majority of deaths happened during Florida’s latest surge in COVID-19 cases, fueled by the delta variant.”
DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw slammed the Miami Herald’s framing of the CDC data as “sensationalistic and dishonest.”
“By the same logic the Miami Herald used in its misleading headline, the liberal media could also say ‘New York reported 12,000 deaths in a single day,’ but of course they will not,” Pushaw told Fox News.
Pushaw was referring to New York’s updated COVID death count earlier this week following the resignation of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D.
“This is yet another example of why most Americans do not trust the mainstream media, and many Floridians feel that Miami Herald crosses the line from a newspaper to a Democratic PR firm in most of their reporting on Governor DeSantis,” Pushaw added.
When asked if the paper stood by its headline, Miami Herald executive editor Monica Richardson told Fox News, “Our story was accurate.”
DeSantis said CBS News producers talked to people who knew the story was wrong but “refused” to put them on the air. The report suggested DeSantis gave the Publix grocery store chain preferable treatment to offer the coronavirus vaccine based on its PAC’s donations to his PAC, but a bipartisan chorus in Florida rejected that framing.
Several news outlets, including The Miami Herald and CNN, have also elevated Rebekah Jones, the fired Florida health official who alleged that the DeSantis administration urged her to alter the state’s COVID data to push for reopenings last year. Critics have thoroughly refuted her claims, describing them as a “fake” conspiracy.