‘Lack of demand’ to blame for COVID-19 test kits expiring, governor says
Florida’s governor said Friday a “lack of demand” is to blame after the state allowed up to 1 million COVID-19 rapid test kits to expire in December.
The issue is drawing intense criticism as testing sites throughout Florida are currently dealing with an overwhelming crunch of people looking to get screened for COVID-19 because of the emergence of the highly contagious omicron variant.
Speaking in Lake Butler on Friday morning, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida's Division of Emergency Management had a stockpile of rapid test kits late last year to distribute to counties and municipalities that needed them.
Problem was, according to DeSantis, the demand was not there because the omicron variant had not yet surfaced.
"Having a stockpile was the right thing to do," DeSantis said. "We just had a lack of demand that happened in September, October, November. Nobody was requesting them. They would've been used had we had omicron then."
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FDEM Director Kevin Guthrie said Thursday the state had a warehouse full of between 800,000 and 1 million Abbott Laboratories BinaxNOW COVID-19 rapid test kits which eventually expired between Dec. 26 and 30.
Emergency management officials had been granted a three-month extension prior to December, but were denied a second extension around Christmas.
DeSantis said Friday that when rapid tests expire, they can be less accurate.
"If they're not accurate, we don't want to be giving people a false sense," DeSantis said.
Just weeks later, however, testing centers throughout Florida are facing hours-long wait times and test kits are nearly impossible to find at local pharmacies.
To combat the shortage, DeSantis said the state has acquired 1 million at-home tests which are being sent to nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and senior communities.
"Nationwide, you had all these people going to try to get tested, and so that created a crunch on the supply. But we are filling the gap with the at-home tests," DeSantis said.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried — who's running as a Democrat against DeSantis in the November election — said in West Palm Beach Thursday the rapid test controversy is proof that new leadership is needed in Tallahassee.
"This governor is not fit to serve," Fried said. "He should have known that this stockpile of tests could have been distributed all throughout the state. This is not only a derelict of responsibility, but this is a complete failure of this governor."
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The Florida Department of Health on Thursday released new COVID-19 testing guidelines that aim to reduce the number of people getting unnecessarily screened for the coronavirus.
The state is prioritizing "high value testing," focusing on certain groups who are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Those groups include the following, according to the Florida Department of Health:
- Older adults, especially those age 65 and older
- Individuals with certain medical conditions, including cancer, diabetes, chronic lung diseases, heart conditions, and a weakened immune system (immunocompromised)
- Pregnant or recently pregnant individuals
Individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 who are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should get tested soon after symptom onset and should seek early monoclonal antibody or antiviral drug treatment and seek other medical treatment as necessary.
Individuals with symptoms who are not at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should consider getting tested for COVID-19 soon after symptom onset and seek medical treatment only as necessary.
For individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19 but have no symptoms, "COVID-19 testing is unlikely to have any clinical benefits," the Florida Department of Health said.
"Just going out and testing yourself all the time if you're not sick, there's very little clinical value to that," DeSantis said. "And so if you're talking about resources being used, that would be a very low-value use of testing."
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