Gov. Ron DeSantis and Kevin Guthrie, director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management, acknowledged last Thursday that 800,000 to a million COVID tests had expired in a state stockpile, with the Omicron variant spreading and residents facing long lines for testing.
The acknowledgement came during a press conference Thursday, when reporters were asking the governor questions following an announcement related to getting COVID-19 test kits to senior citizens in group living.
The expired testing kits had become an issue earlier, when Florida Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Nikki Fried said in a Dec. 30 statement: "It's come to my attention that Gov. DeSantis' Department of Health has a significant number of COVID-19 tests stockpiled that are set to expire imminently.
"Given the Governor's lack of transparency throughout this pandemic, there's no known public information about these tests or how soon they expire. With Omicron infections exploding throughout Florida, I beg of him to release these tests immediately to local counties and cities, and to stand up state-sponsored testing sites. To let these tests expire while Floridians anxiously wait for hours in testing lines is negligent at best, and heartless at worst."
On Thursday, Guthrie explained what happened:
"We had between 800,000 and a million test kits, Abbott rapid test kits, in our warehouse that did expire," Guthrie said in answer to reporter questions at the press conference in West Palm Beach.
Guthrie said demand for the tests was low in the fall, prior to the emergency of the Omicron variant.
"We tried to give them out prior to that but there wasn't a demand for it," Guthrie said. He said the state secured an extension on the expiration dates, from September to December, which expired, and have requested another one, which is pending.
On Thursday, Fried, a Democrat who is a 2022 gubernatorial candidate, blasted the governor about the expirations.
"It's bad enough that Gov. DeSantis has deprioritized testing, with Omicron exploding across Florida, but it's an absolute disgrace for the Governor and his communications team to have lied and covered up the massive failure of a million unused tests while Floridians wait in hours-long lines for local tests that are running out," Fried said in a press statement.
"Now the Governor has to beg President Biden for another waiver to even use these expired tests — should they still be safe and effective. The Governor's executive failure during this pandemic continues to hurt Floridians. This is why I speak up."
In DeSantis' intended theme of the press conference, he announced that the Division of Emergency Management had procured a supply of at-home tests that will be prioritized for senior-living facilities.
"We've been able to secure nearly 1 million at-home tests and make them available to nursing homes and long-term care facilities," DeSantis said, reprising his "Seniors First" theme from early in the COVID pandemic.
Guthrie said shipments of "starter kits" based on each facility's bed count would begin today, arriving at their destinations this weekend. They are intended for use only in people exhibiting COVID symptoms.
Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller said Florida is home to 700 nursing homes and 3,000 assisted living facilities.
Asked by a reporter whether nursing homes and assisted living facilities are experiencing outbreaks, Marstiller disclosed none.
"I don't have any specific numbers for you now," she said. "As in the general population, we are seeing more cases."
Asked by reporters if the governor himself has been tested, DeSantis said that he had not been tested recently. He also said that he hadn't had any COVID symptoms, so he didn't get tested. DeSantis received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the spring of 2021.
DeSantis made it clear that residents can test every day, if they choose. But Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo has requested of Floridians, "If you have no symptoms, please don't get tested."
Ladapo has also provided new guidance in Florida on COVID testing, including: "Individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19, but have no symptoms: COVID-19 testing is unlikely to have any clinical benefits."
This story ran originally at the Florida Phoenix.
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