The state of Florida is hiding information about coronavirus deaths from citizens. Under the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Health, the state has consistently refused to inform the public about deaths and infections in Florida nursing homes, prisons and now, coronavirus deaths as documented by public medical examiners.
As fatalities from the virus continue to increase daily, never in recent historical memory has there been a more unsettling display of Florida government’s dark impulses to conceal the truth from its own citizens. Citizens should be outraged.
Crucial reporting from the Miami Herald last week detailed the state of Florida’s decision to blackout large swaths of public information from data sheets about statewide deaths due to coronavirus.
The Herald and other news organizations including the Pensacola News Journal had sought access to the list for weeks. According to the Herald, the documents are compiled from individual medical examiners and maintained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Earlier the state had been providing it.
The head of the Florida Medical Examiner’s Commission, which governs the state’s 21 medical examiners, has confirmed that the information is subject to disclosure under the state’s public records law. In fact, such fatality information is crucially maintained for public access in cases of statewide natural disasters such as hurricanes and pandemics.
The Herald noted that for nearly 30 years since Hurricane Andrew, the DOH has never objected to full public disclosure of the death records.
Yet the DeSantis administration has suddenly directed the information to be kept secret.
Barbara Petersen, president emeritus of the First Amendment Foundation, told the Herald, “For whatever reason, our governor is trying to hide information — first about nursing homes, and now from medical examiners. They are trying to paint a rosy picture by refusing to provide us accurate information that allows us to make informed decisions about the health and safety of our families.”
The public data is crucial in the midst of this crisis, in part because death and illness reporting from multiple state organizations does not match up. The Herald explained that death counts from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement don’t align with reported fatalities from the Department of Health.
And as recently as a month ago, death counts from the medical examiners were about 10% higher than figures released by the DOH.
The most recent records in question were previously being released by the Medical Examiners Commission until the DeSantis administration ordered them to stop and redact certain information about the deaths.
This is DeSantis’ dark pattern: Citizens are facing a health crisis and the governor tries to prevent them from seeing the truth.
In the midst of outbreaks at elder-care centers and nursing homes, DeSantis sought to shield the names of the facilities from citizens whose family members might be at risk inside.
The Florida Dept. of Corrections hid the numbers of cases at state prisons for weeks.
And as noted by the Herald, the DeSantis administration is still hiding information about the backlog of testing results from private labs, which are handling 90% of all testing in the state.
This defiance of transparency in a state of emergency is inexcusable. Florida governors of every political party have shown far more commitment to public safety and the basic right to know during times of statewide crisis. It’s a fundamental value that would undoubtedly be upheld by Republican governors like Jeb Bush and Bob Martinez just as well as Democrats such as Reubin Askew and Bob Graham.
Why DeSantis has been dead set on concealing the truth from you in this moment of crisis defies understanding.
Some news organizations have once again committed to file suit for the public information on your behalf — on behalf of truth, transparency and public safety.
We strongly encourage citizens of all political parties to contact the governor’s office as well as your state legislators and condemn the state’s ongoing attack on your right to essential public health information.
An editorial from the Pensacola News Journal.