Right after the Tampa Bay Times issued a report about the medical examiners in Florida were counting 10 percent more deaths than the state itself, Florida officials have withheld medical examiners data on coronavirus deaths for more than seven days.
The Chairman of the state Medical Examiners Commission, Stephen Nelson was talking with the Tampa Bay Times on the subject as he said that the state health department intervened and told him it planned to remove causes of death and case descriptions from mortality data.
He added that the data is meaningless without the needed information and the entirety of the list should be considered public information.
“This is no different than any other public record we deal with. It’s paid for by taxpayer dollars and the taxpayers have a right to know,’’ said Nelson.
A spokesperson for the Florida health department, Alberto Moscoso was talking with the Times and he said that the department participated in conference calls with the state Department of Law Enforcement which support the Medical Examiners Commission, saying the discussions pertained to privacy concerns for the individuals that died because of the coronavirus.
Moscoso added that Florida did not provide a formal legal opinion during the calls.
According to the Times, in March the agency attempted to persuade the Miami-Dade medical examiner’s office to restrict access to death records. Names of the dead were also released.
Hillsborough County refused to release records for weeks before eventually releasing a list on Tuesday of those identified as dying from the virus after questioning from the newspaper. The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner, which previously provided a spreadsheet of coronavirus-related deaths, was directed by county attorneys last week to stop releasing, the Times reported.
Paul Petrino, the Palm Beach County office’s operations manager told the Times:
“I was actually taken aback when they called us,’’ adding that the office considers the release of the information essential to providing the public with information.
“I’d hate to see anything hinder that. Hopefully, it won’t,’’ added Petrino.