(New York, NY) – State officials in Florida have been withholding a count of COVID-19-related deaths after the Tampa Bay Times reported that state medical examiners’ death count was 10 percent higher than figures released by the Florida Department of Health.

PEN America’s Nora Benavidez, director of U.S. free expression programs, said the following:

“Public access to government records should never be subject to political interference. Accurate medical reporting is quite literally a matter of life and death during a pandemic, and the people of Florida deserve a clear picture of COVID-19 fatalities as the state considers plans to reopen. As is so often the case, it is thanks to dogged investigation by local journalists that these discrepancies have come to light. Now the government needs to uphold its end of the bargain and respect the public’s right to access this information.”

Read more about PEN America’s work celebrating local journalists in advance of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, [email protected], +1 202 309 8892