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© REUTERS/Maria Alejandra Cardona
Some Palm Beach County residents making public records requests for the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner's Office's COVID-19 weekly death tallies noticed errors in the reports.

In eight instances of the over 580 deaths listed by mid-July, the cause of death was not COVID-19.

The list included a 60-year-old man who died of a gunshot wound to the head; several people who died of cancer, and one who died from a hip fracture following a fall.

The inclusion of those deaths worried some who said inflating the number of COVID-19 deaths was sending wrong information to the Florida Department of Health and to the County Commission.

But according to the medical examiner's office, the list given out for public records request is not the official tally.

"That list is a quick and dirty excel spreadsheet....that is in no way used for the Department of Health reporting," said operations manager Paul Petrino.

Petrino said everyone on the list did test positive for COVID-19.

He said the app the medical examiners use for COVID-19 cases automatically inputs the virus as a cause of death and they have to physically change that box from yes to no if the person had COVID but actually died of something else -- like a gunshot.

Comment: The only reason for that setting in an app is to specifically create higher numbers of COVID cases.

"That box should have been unclicked because although he was COVID positive, it was not contributory to his death," said Petrino.

Petrino said it is more of an administrative error, and they are taking off the eight inaccurate non-COVID deaths.

Petrino emphasized, however, death certificate causes of death are the only ones sent to the Department of Health. Deaths are included if COVID-19 is the primary, secondary or contributory cause of death. People who have COVID but die of something else are not included in the tally, according to Petrino.

County Administrator Verdenia Baker said they rely on the numbers from the Department of Health when making policy decisions, and not the weekly public records list from the Medical Examiner's Office.

During a Friday news conference at the County Commission Chambers, Palm Beach County Health Department Director Dr. Alina Alonso said she works closely with the Medical Examiner's Office, has complete trust in their assessments and is not worried about a few wrong inclusions.

"If you find three or four or even six, that's not going to change your general percentage of deaths or anything else. Those are just excuses that people find to create chaos and to create mistrust in the information that's out there, and that's not fair to the public and it's not fair to the people looking at this," said Alonso.