Palm Beach Post
May 13, 2020
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 (DOH), 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. These 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 Palm Beach Post) 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 (FDLE). 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.”