TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday defended his administration’s decision to allow up to one million Covid-19 rapid test kits to expire, a move that comes as he is facing increasing criticism from Democrats over his handling of the Omicron surge.
Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie admitted during a Thursday press conference that the tests expired, and DeSantis on Friday sought to explain why the state didn’t distribute them. DeSantis has argued that the stockpile resulted from a lack of demand in the later part of 2021 and blamed President Joe Biden’s administration for not granting extensions to keep the tests eligible — something it did in September for three months.
He said that as cases spurred by the Delta variant dropped in Florida during the latter half of 2021, people were not taking tests for “months, and months.”
“[Division of Emergency Management] has been asking about that for many, many weeks anticipating that,” DeSantis said Friday. “Basically, the way they [the federal government] do this is they always want to have enough tests if people need them, they send them down … the results of that is we had a stockpile, but no one really wanted them for many, many months.”
In the days before Thursday’s admission, DeSantis had focused on erasing the “testing psychology,” essentially arguing against the practice that all individuals should get tests regardless of whether they show Covid-related symptoms while railing against the federal government for not providing tests.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for monitoring expiration dates of tests, did not return a request seeking comment. DeSantis did announce Thursday that his administration would send one million self-administered Covid tests to state nursing homes and long-term care facilities amid the new surge in infections due to the Omicron variant.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat challenging DeSantis in 2022, had been criticizing the administration over the stockpiled tests and said the issue makes clear DeSantis is “not fit to serve.” Fried called the issue a “cover up” after the DeSantis administration last week initially brushed off her claims, saying that the statewide elected Democrat should “stay in her lane.”
“During this time period, they lied about it. They tried to cover it. They said my accusations were unfounded. They called me a liar,” Fried said at a Thursday press conference. “This governor is not fit to serve.”
New infections dropped dramatically in Florida after a spike driven by the Delta variant. But they have once again skyrocketed in recent weeks due to the Omicron variant, which is more contagious but leads to less severe cases. Florida has averaged 55,271 new cases since the start of the year, a huge uptick from most of 2021, and more than 170,000 tests-per-day have been administered in the state over that time, according to data published by Johns Hopkins University.
“I brought to the attention of the people of our state over a week ago that the DeSantis administration was sitting on almost a million tests, while Floridians all across our state sat in lines 4, 5 hours,” Fried said during a press conference this week.
Fried’s Thursday press conference prompted further pushback from Department of Health Communications Director Jeremy Redfern, who last week tweeted that Fried needed to “turn on the blinker and get back in her lane,” a sentiment he doubled down on after Guthrie confirmed that up to one million tests expired in a warehouse.
“And I’ll say it again: Nikki Fried needs to turn on that blinker and get back in her lane,” Redfern tweeted Thursday.
News of the expired tests also comes as the state is rewriting its testing recommendations to “unwind” what Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo has called “the testing psychology.” The new guidelines published this week by the Florida Department of Health say that testing has no “clinical benefit” for those without symptoms, and that the focus first should be on testing people who show symptoms or those who are at risk of Covid-19 complications.
The Florida guidance to not get tested if you are asymptomatic, even if you’ve come into close contact with someone who has the virus, is at odds with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also recommends those without symptoms quarantine for five days if they test positive because they can still spread the virus.
“We are going to be working to unwind the testing psychology that our federal leadership has managed to, unfortunately get most of the country in,” Ladapo said during a Tuesday news conference, which DeSantis also attended.
“It’s really time for people to be living, to make the decisions they want regarding vaccination, to enjoy the fact that many people have natural immunity,” he added, “And to unwind this preoccupation that only Covid is determining the boundaries and constraints and possibilities of life.”
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