Gov. DeSantis on coronavirus: We need more testing kits ASAP

Color-enhanced image of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (in blue), which causes the dangerous respiratory disease COVID-19. Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases-Rocky Mountain Lab

Florida does not have enough testing kits to test patients for coronavirus and is asking the federal government for them, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday morning at a press conference in Quincy.

“We don’t have them yet. We’d like to get them obviously as soon as possible,” DeSantis said. “To be able to do that local testing would make a big, big difference.”

DeSantis also announced that a fourth person has tested positive in Florida for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by coronavirus. The Santa Rosa County man is in his 70s and recently traveled overseas, DeSantis said. The test result had not been confirmed but is presumed positive, the governor said, adding, “We’re highly confident that’s going to be verified.”

In addition, five Florida residents are in quarantine at a federal facility after being repatriated from overseas by the U.S. State Department, DeSantis said. The Florida Department of Health reported at mid-day Thursday that the number of Florida patients awaiting test results doubled since Wednesday to 69, and the number of negative results rose slightly to 31. Nearly 1,000 people in Florida have been “under public health monitoring” including 248 who are now.

DeSantis said Florida needs greater access to testing kits, which are in short supply nationally.

“The federal government’s doing that. I know they have tens of thousands that will eventually be en route,” DeSantis said. “We certainly believe that would help things, especially if we’re in a situation where we have a surge of people who are showing up with symptoms.

“That message has been received by the [Trump] administration, by the vice president [Mike Pence, federal lead on coronavirus],” DeSantis said. “I’m hoping we can announce that we’re going to start receiving those soon, but we’re just not there yet.”

Federal authorities promised to provide capacity for a million tests to be performed nationwide by Friday, but manufacturers of the test kits told national media this week that’s not realistic.

Bloomberg News reported Thursday afternoon that Rick Scott, U.S. senator and former Florida governor, concurred after a briefing in Washington that the promise will not be fulfilled.

“There won’t be a million people to get a test by the end of the week,” Scott said, as quoted by Bloomberg News. “It’s way smaller than that. And still, at this point, it’s still through public health departments.”

Reuters reported that U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Thursday afternoon that enough test kits to test about 400,000 people will be distributed by week’s end. It was not clear how quickly the test kits can be deployed or which areas of the country will be prioritized for receiving them in large numbers.

DeSantis said he toured two of Florida’s three testing labs this week and found the tests to be “pretty sophisticated” – not a procedure that local clinicians could readily do. He said the state-run labs he toured are in Tampa and Miami, and that a third is in Jacksonville.

It’s not clear where, specifically, these labs are, and what is their scope of work.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Vice President Pence announced the CDC had lifted restrictions on testing so that “any American can be tested, no restrictions, subject to doctor’s orders.”

The effect of  broader testing guidelines depends entirely on the availability of test kits.

Anticipating that clinicians will be tasked with deciding which patients should be tested, the Florida Medical Association now offers its members and non-members online training in a course titled “Identification and Containment of the Coronavirus: COVID-19” for $25. The course targets “physicians and nursing professionals at all levels and settings in the healthcare industry.”

Nationally at mid-day Thursday, the CDC reported COVID-19 cases in 13 states, with 10 fatalities. The New York Times, using data from the CDC plus state health authorities, reported 18 states having confirmed or presumptive cases – Tennessee and New Jersey being the latest – and 11 deaths: 10 in the Seattle area and one in California.