Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is directing the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to publish federal COVID-19 data to fill the “COVID information-sharing void that currently exists here in our state.”
“Information and transparency are essential when it comes to getting information out to our communities and making sure that we are working together to fight this virus,” Fried said, speaking to reporters at a news conference in the Capitol building Wednesday.
Fried said she was spurred to action given the recent uptick in Florida’s COVID-19 cases. The number of new cases confirmed in Florida went up 59% last week.
The Agriculture Department’s COVID-19 updates will be disseminated through news releases, social media, and news conferences “as frequently as we feel that we need to,” Fried said.
The Department will use COVID-19 data it receives from the federal government, Fried said, noting her agency is in “constant communication” with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the COVID-19 Taskforce and the White House.
The Florida Department of Health currently publishes weekly COVID-19 data. The department changed the frequency of its virus reporting from daily to weekly in early June. At the time, Health Department officials said it made sense given the decreasing number of cases and the increasing number of people being vaccinated.
The sharp rise in Florida’s COVID-19 cases has not caused the department to reverse its decision.
Fried, the only Democrat in the Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ cabinet, said “mixed messaging” has been coming from the Governor’s office regarding the pandemic.
“The people of Florida need and deserve access to regular, timely updates as it relates to the ongoing pandemic, not secret meetings or sporadic information sharing,” Fried said, referring to a closed-door roundtable DeSantis held Monday to discuss his views about masks in schools.
At that meeting, DeSantis questioned the point of tracking COVID-19 data.
“What’s the point of tracking these cases the way we’re tracking the cases if, in fact, we believe the vaccines protect you from severe outcomes but may not necessarily protect you from testing positive?” DeSantis asked.
COVID-19 data from the Florida Department of Health has, at times, appeared discrepant with COVID-19 reports from the CDC. For example, the Florida Department of Health reported 78 COVID-19 deaths last week. Fried said data she received from the CDC reported 358 deaths associated with COVID-19 last week in Florida.
The CDC COVID-19 case and death counts include both confirmed and probable cases and deaths. The Florida Department of Health does not say which standardized definitions it uses to determine cases and deaths.
COVID-19 data reporting from Agriculture Department will go on as long as the Department of Health continues publishing weekly data, Fried said.
“It’s been one of our concerns from day one when it came to this pandemic is what information is out there, what is trusted information and reliable? So, until we start seeing data reporting from the Department of Health and getting these reports from the hospitals, we’re going to be relying on what we’re getting from the CDC,” Fried said.