Florida health officials appear to have inflated recent coronavirus case numbers by as much as 30 percent, according to a Just the News analysis of state’s Department of Health published data.
Increasing numbers of the coronavirus cases were being reported in late June and July 4 but during the same time period deaths remained flat.
The state’s dashboard lists new cases in a bar chart called, “new cases of residents by day.”
Using the database’s ArcGIS data manager, Just the News points out that users can “access detailed, cross-referential data readouts for all of the state’s confirmed coronavirus cases, including the sex, age group, region and ‘origin’ of each case, among numerous other metrics.”
Two of these options– “case date” and “event date”– help explain the inflated numbers. A Department of Health document defines the case date as the “date used to create bar chart in the Dashboard,” and the “event date” as the “date symptoms started, or if that date is unknown, date lab results were reported to the DOH.”
Meaning many of the cases showing up on the dashboard were not actually posted on the same day as their date. In other words, case dates on the chart do not represent timely data. Instead, charted case dates may instead represent “events” — positive tests or illness-onset dates — that came weeks or even months earlier.
“Data show that the state was apparently undercounting thousands of cases between early and mid-June, after which through the end of June and into early July it began posting what were presumably the backlogged cases it had missed in the prior weeks,” Just the News reports.
After June 20, the state posted several skyrocketing case days approaching 10,000 “new” cases– but the number of event-date cases for those same were lower by up to 25 percent. The highest-charting day of July 4, when 11,400 cases were posted, only reported 8,000 “event date” cases, a 30% difference.
State health department representatives responded with a series of conflicting answers when questioned by Just the News.
A department official said: “Event date will be updated as more information is gathered about the case. For instance, we would not know the person’s onset date when we received the lab result. The county interviews the individual and determines their onset date, “so the ‘event date’ would change.”
“Epidemiologists collect information that informs the Department of Health of an individual’s symptoms, contacts and location of where they may have acquired COVID-19,” Alberto Moscoso, the director of the health department’s Office of Communications, told Just the News.
“The first date of entry in answer to any question, COVID-related or not, is designated the event date,” he said in an email. “The average period of incubation for COVID-19 is about 5 days, with the longest period of incubation being 14 days. It is important to keep this in mind as many event dates are listed months before the onset of the illness.”
“Thus, the event date should be viewed as the first date noted as part of an epidemiological investigation, and not be interpreted as the onset date for COVID-19,” he added. “In some situations, the event date may represent the onset of COVID-19 symptoms or when the individual tested positive.”
“Moscoso’s claim that the event date should ‘not be interpreted as the onset date for COVID-19’ appears to conflict at least partially with both the state’s posted definition of the term as well as the earlier email from the health department suggesting that the onset of illness is tied directly to the ‘event date,'” Just the News reports. When it asked for further clarification, it didn’t get any.