Miami Herald by David Smiley
April 15, 2020
When the Miami Herald sought information from the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office last month about COVID-19 deaths in the epicenter of Florida’s coronavirus outbreak, attorneys for the state health department moved to block the records from becoming public.
Emails and phone conference appointments obtained through a public records request show that, while medical examiners across Florida had already released details about deaths in their counties, attorneys for the state spent more than a week trying to convince their counterparts in Miami-Dade County not to provide that information to the Herald.
“As we discussed, it is the Department of Health’s position that the information requested in the request below should not be released as it is confidential and exempt from public record disclosure,” Christine Lamia, deputy general counsel for the health department, wrote on April 2 to Assistant Miami-Dade County Attorney Christopher Angell.
The Herald, which intends to use the information to inform its reporting, obtained the information Thursday after the county bucked Florida’s Department of Health. But the episode is an example of how the administration of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis often has been unwilling or unable to provide crucial information about its coronavirus response — and at times has actively tried to shield critical details about the depths of the crisis from becoming public.
“We must have accurate information to make decisions, to care for loved ones, and to get to the other side of this COVID-19 crisis with any trust in government,” First Amendment Foundation President Pamela Marsh wrote in a critical Op-Ed that ran Wednesday in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.