Florida to receive 6.4 million rapid COVID-19 tests

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Florida will receive 6.4 million rapid tests for COVID-19 from the federal government, the latest step the Governor’s Office argues will help Florida reopen society.

That haul, which Gov. Ron DeSantis announced in Clearwater Tuesday, comes from 150 million tests the White House secured from Abbott Laboratories last month. More than 800 longterm care facilities across the state already have some of the BinaxNOW Ag Card kits, but Florida will receive 400,000 per week beginning this week to distribute at its discretion.

Broad access to easy tests could allow the state’s elderly and other at-risk residents to do more and “be a part of life.”

“You think about 6.4 million tests, that is, I don’t even know we could physically do that many tests,” DeSantis said. “There’s certainly not demand for that many tests right now.”

The Department of Health on Monday received test results for 70,893 individuals. Of those, 3,259 came back positive.

“There’s not as much virus,” DeSantis said. “That’s a good thing.”

When announcing on Monday the test distributions, President Donald Trump suggested states should make schools the top priority kit recipients. But DeSantis said schools would come second in Florida, with nursing homes and any facility with seniors being a priority for the Sunshine State, be it a nursing home or retirement facility.

Florida last month opened the door for nursing homes and other longterm care facilities to allow families to visit their loved ones, who for months had been isolated from guests. Seniors who want to meet with younger family members could have them tested just before greeting them, the Governor suggested.

“We talk about protecting the people that are the most vulnerable,” DeSantis said. “That cannot mean that you just isolate vulnerable people and not let them also enjoy life.”

A few thousand tests a school district could last a long time, he added, and provide parents comfort for in-person learning.

However, the Governor has invited multiple scientists to join him for press conferences who argued testing in schools has the sole purpose of locking down schools. Nevertheless, DeSantis argued the new tests could keep more students in classrooms.

“Some schools are isolating people that may have been in contact, so these are people who were not showing symptoms, and a lot of parents have been frustrated, and I think rightfully so,” he said.

Only approved facilities and personnel can administer tests, but DeSantis hoped waivers could clear facilities for vulnerable populations and schools without medical staff to give the tests themselves. People could learn to administer the test within 15 minutes, he added.

To demonstrate the test’s ease, the Governor had a nurse administer a test to a staffer who received a negative result a few minutes later. DeSantis, who has been sampled with various swabs ahead of visits with the President, described it as “much more pleasant than a typical swab.”

“It is a swab that goes in both nostrils, but it’s not one of the swabs that really kind of gets up in your brain where you feel like, oh my gosh, this is really bad,” the Governor said.

The quick turnaround and ease, he added, is almost like a pregnancy test.

Other rapid tests have been unreliable, with the Governor calling out Cepheid tests for false positives. Abbott says its new BinaxNOW Ag Card, announced last month, identifies 97.1% of positive samples correctly and identifies 98.5% of negative samples correctly.

“I think that this one is going to be truer, that if you’re positive, you’re positive,” DeSantis said. “I don’t think that it’s going to have a lot of false positives.”

The federal government purchased the 150 million tests for $750 million. But for Florida, which will receive 400,000 tests per week, the cost will be nothing, saving about $100 per test.

Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said he and the Governor were on the phone with Abbott trying to secure some tests just like Florida had been on the forefront of receiving other technologies.

“But the federal government bought the entire year’s supply, so we were happy about that obviously because now we get them for free, so it’s even a better scenario,” Moskowitz said.

On Friday, DeSantis lifted all state-level restrictions regarding the pandemic but left Florida’s state of emergency in effect. The complete reopening raised questions about the purpose of the lasting emergency order, but the Governor’s communications director took to Twitter Tuesday to defend the decision.

“Because there is more to the emergency than what is and isn’t open,” Fred Piccolo tweeted. “Today’s testing announcement is one of them. Need to effectively and quickly distribute. Huge progress has been made. But no one has given the all clear.”

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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