Miami Herald by carol Marbin Miller, Sarah Balaskey, Nicholas Nehamas, Mary Ellen Klas
May 6, 2020
Acting under intense pressure from a coalition of Florida news organizations and open-government advocates, the state Wednesday evening released a list of every Florida fatality documented by a medical examiner resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
The information was so riddled with holes, however, that it sparked as many questions as answers.
Missing from the data set were the names of those who have perished from COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus infections, the probable cause of death (there can be multiple factors) and the circumstances of the person’s demise.
Several news organizations, including the Miami Herald, had for weeks sought access to the list, which is compiled by 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 insisted the information — including the names — is subject to disclosure under the state’s public records law. The administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis, which oversees state health regulators, has warned the examiners to keep the information secret.
“The Department of Health is telling the medical examiners it cannot release this information that the medical examiners have been releasing on a regular basis,” said Barbara Petersen, president emeritus of the First Amendment Foundation, an open-government watchdog in Tallahassee.
“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,” Petersen said.
“It’s a disservice to the citizens of the state of Florida.”
The data, while incomplete, provide a glimpse into the lives of the 1,300 to 1,400 people who died from coronavirus in Florida since the pandemic swept the state.