Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday announced plans to reduce the turnaround time between testing and informing people of their test results, a chief concern as thousands of residents anxiously wait to learn if they’ve contracted COVID-19.
The governor also welcomed a dip in the rate of positive COVID-19 test results below 10 percent for two straight days.
He pointed to downward trends on a number of fronts, including hospitalizations and positive test results reported by the Florida Department of Health on to around 9 percent on both Saturday and Sunday.
“We were 15, 16 percent there for a while,” DeSantis said during a news conference at Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale.
“These are encouraging trends. Obviously, there’s a lot more work to do, DeSantis said.
In fact, Florida is headed very soon toward the 500,000 mark in COVID-19 infections. Thus far, only California has reached that mark, according to a New York Times analysis.
Of testing results published Monday, 4,752 were positive for COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total to 491,884. Reports of 73 deaths came in, bringing that total to 7,157.
DeSantis specifically mentioned the backlog of coronavirus test results, which can take a week or more to deliver to potential patients, especially for commercial labs, given the scale of testing in Florida.
The Florida Phoenix reported about the various testing methods and wrote about one South Florida man who waited 11 days to get his positive result, potentially infecting others. (The man said that as far as he knows, none of his contacts contracted the disease from him.)
“If you’re somebody that is symptomatic and you don’t get your results back for seven days that is not helpful. For asymptomatic test takers, if it takes seven days then the test is basically useless at that time, because even if you were infectious at the minute you tested, by the time you get it back you probably haven’t been isolating anyway and you’re likely to not be infectious at the back end of that,” DeSantis said.
Consequently, DeSantis said, he has ordered conversion of state-run testing sites at Marlins Park and Hard Rock Stadium in Miami-Dade County to offer coronavirus antigen tests that can produce results in 15 minutes.
Those tests will be available to people showing symptoms or who are vulnerable to serious complications if infected, including the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions, the governor said.
“You’re going to be able to go in, get the antigen test, and in 15 minutes walk out with a result,” DeSantis said.
“That’s not only good for the test taker, the patient; it’s also good for officials monitoring the trends. When we get tests reported to the state, sometimes those tests were taken 10, 14 days before. Certainly, the infections in many cases happened 10 to 14 days before,” he said.
“So, if you’re looking at things like the positivity rate or some of these other things, a lot of times that data can be stale. Now we’re going to get at these two sites, a total of 1,250 tests, we’re going to be able to get real time data.”
One lane at these drive-through sites will remain open to asymptomatic people, he said.
At other state-run sites, vulnerable people or those showing symptoms will be able to swab themselves with a 24-hour turnaround from the time the lab receives the specimen.
“Hopefully, it will be more of a 48- to 72-hour window, which I think is a big deal,” DeSantis said.
Antibody tests will be available, too, and capable of determining whether an infection was recent or more remote in time, he said — potentially valuable information for workplaces screening employees.
“It’s all about lab prioritization, understanding that there’s limited lab capacity for quick turnaround. And if we can focus on those people who really need the test results the quickest, I think we’re going to be able to improve,” the governor said.
Moreover, people who know they carry COVID antibodies can donate blood from which medical workers can extract “convalescent plasma” containing antibodies that can be used to treat other patients, DeSantis said.