Reporters who showed up for at the Florida Emergency Operations Center Friday for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ briefing on Hurricane Isaias, which has prompted tropical storm warnings in Southeast Florida, underwent an unusual protocol:
They were required to submit to nasal swab testing for COVID-19.
The governor’s office directed reporters who wanted to cover the press conference to arrive 90 minutes early to undergo “proper screening protocols.” These were nasal swab tests for COVID-19, a spokesman for the governor said, and the results would be held confidential.
Jason Delgado, a reporter for the Florida Politics news site, summed up the experience in a tweet:
“I’m at the State Emergency Operations Center and just finished my first COVID-19 test. Seems all media had to do it ahead of @GovRonDeSantis’s press conference. Neither nostril will ever be the same.”
DeSantis has held news conferences nearly every day, in Tallahassee and elsewhere in Florida, since COVID hit the state in earnest but this appears to be the first time reporters faced invasive testing. For news conferences in the state Capitol, reporters merely wave their Capitol press credentials to gain entrance to the building, which is otherwise closed to most employees and visitors.
During the pandemic, a good number of reporters view news conferences via feeds on the Florida Channel or the governor’s Facebook page.
COVID tests are not planned for every press conference the governor holds, the press office said. However, the state Emergency Operations Center, site of Friday’s news conference, had to be closed for a deep cleaning in mid-July after 12 employees tested positive for the coronavirus. The Department of Emergency management reported the problem in a tweet on July 16.
The office as of this writing had not replied to follow-up questions regarding which personnel conducted the testing and if and how the results would be stored.
As the UC Davis Medical Center helpfully explains:
“Testing for COVID-19 involves inserting a 6-inch long swab (like a long Q-tip) into the cavity between the nose and mouth (nasopharyngeal swab) for 15 seconds and rotating it several times. The swabbing is then repeated on the other side of the nose to make sure enough material is collected. The swab is then inserted into a container and sent to a lab for testing.”
Reporters for some of the news operations that cover state capitals and are affiliated with the Florida Phoenix said they were unaware of COVID testing for reporters in their states. But they were familiar with temperature checks.
Nasal swabs are among a range of options for COVID screening, including temperature checks and questionnaires asking about the subject’s travels and possible exposure to the coronavirus. Amusement parks including Orlando’s Walt Disney World have used temperature checks even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend them.
Additionally, the temperature checks pose civil liberties questions, as ACLU analyst Jay Stanley told the Phoenix recently, including the potential expansion to record other vital signs.
What’s more, “In many cases, it amounts to little more than public-health theater,” Stanley said.