Florida's COVID-19 data: Disputes and questions continue

Florida is facing growing questions and criticism over how it calculates and reports COVID-19 data.

The latest controversy involved PanCare of Florida, a non-profit health organization that runs testing sites in Northwest Florida.  

In a letter, PanCare CEO Michel Hill states the COVID-19 data for the state of Florida is skewed. He writes, “PanCare conducted over 6,900 antibody tests, and over 16,000 antigen tests that have not been accurately reported by the Florida Department of Health -- because they refused to accept the results.”

Governor Ron DeSantis’ office did not respond to FOX 13’s request for comment. 

The concerns PanCare raised about the state not counting it’s positive test results relates to a second, broader issue epidemiologists have raised about the stats. The administration combines results of tests that analyze genetic material, known for being accurate, with less accurate antigen tests that look or proteins on the surface.  The state spreadsheets do not allow users to separate that information.

Propublica also notes in its metrics, “Florida was reported to have combined viral test data with antibody test data, which is likely to result in a lower positive test rate. The state reports the number of specimens tested. Because some people may be tested more than once, the state’s positive test rates are probably higher than if they reported the number of people tested.”

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Meanwhile, some labs had only been sending in positive results and not reporting negative results. The state did not catch that and only instructed labs to report all results after FOX 35 in Orlando investigated and found some labs reporting 100% positive results. 

The governor also acknowledged a mistake in the data as a patient who died in a motorcycle crash was counted as a fatality due to COVID-19. 

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USF epidemiologist Dr. Jason Salemi said the state is likely undercounting COVID hospital admissions by only counting cases in which COVID-19 is the primary diagnosis. He noted, based on the process, coders can list something else, such as pregnancy, as a primary diagnosis even when patients are admitted specifically for COVID-19.  

“What I can tell you if people are actually following the CDC guidance for coding, all pregnant women who come in to a hospital, even if it’s because of COVID 19, they’re not showing up in the current COVID-19 numbers,” Salemi said.