Florida missed 18% of COVID deaths early in the pandemic, had incomplete info on cases, auditor says

Florida health officials missed thousands of COVID-19 deaths in 2020, had incomplete information for millions of tests and spent millions of taxpayer dollars on testing that lacked vital data, a state report released Monday has found.

From September 2020 through November 2021, the Florida Auditor General’s office examined nearly 11.3 million laboratory test results and nearly 730,000 coronavirus cases documented statewide in 2020 from March through October.

The investigation found 3,082 COVID deaths the state Health Department did not include in its official counts. Those victims would have pushed the state’s reported death toll up 18% higher than it was Oct. 31, 2020.

COVID comeback: Much of Florida at high risk of straining hospitals; indoor masks urged

Frank Cerabino: Another misfire: Florida's Rubio takes aim at COVID-19 vaccinations, not AR-15s 

Stranded with COVID: Adventure turns into nightmare for suburban Boynton Beach couple stranded abroad with COVID

A majority of the 5.5 million-plus COVID test results — 51.5% — lacked information about the race of those tested. About 59% lacked ethnicity information. Hispanic people are Florida’s biggest ethnicity.

People line up for COVID-19 testing at a county-run drive thru site at Caloosa Park in Boynton Beach, Florida on January 3, 2021
People line up for COVID-19 testing at a county-run drive thru site at Caloosa Park in Boynton Beach, Florida on January 3, 2021

By mid-May 2020, 25% of Hispanics and 20% of Black people tested positive for the virus, compared with about 11% of whites, The Palm Beach Post found in examining nearly 200,000 test results the Health Department had not made public in which individuals reported their race or ethnicity.

Labs that got more than $5.4 million from the state in July and August 2020 did not include information such as ID numbers or dates for COVID tests administered. As a result, a number of test results did not make it into public state reports.

Just 38% of a sample of 2,600 tests conducted by three unnamed state-contracted labs returned results.

State COVID reporting: Florida to update COVID-19 data less frequently than all other states

The investigation found that the state Health Department routinely failed to analyze the integrity of test results, despite the predictability of NFL testing regimen, requiring players in training camps to take three COVID tests before entering their team’s buildings.

Compared to the Buccaneers and the Jaguars, the Health Department collected far more test samples from the Dolphins, usually from more than 80 players between July 19 and Sept. 27, 2020.

The audit could not find 39 players’ test results in the state Health Department database for one game day. The department said results for players without a Florida address were sent to their state of residence. That state was supposed to forward the results to the Florida Department of Health, but that may not have always happened.

Chris Persaud is The Palm Beach Post's data reporter. Email him at cpersaud@pbpost.com.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Florida missed deaths, fumbled testing data early in COVID pandemic