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Florida is privatizing state-run COVID testing sites

By cutting costs, officials at the Division of Emergency Management are hoping to avoid having to shut the sites down altogether and be in a position to rapidly scale up the operations in the event of a surge.
Healthcare workers test residents as dozens of vehicles lined up at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at Raymond James Stadium site on Wednesday, March 25, 2020  in Tampa.  Residents that wished to be tested had to be approved and registered online before arriving at the site.
Healthcare workers test residents as dozens of vehicles lined up at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at Raymond James Stadium site on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 in Tampa. Residents that wished to be tested had to be approved and registered online before arriving at the site. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Sep. 5, 2020|Updated Sep. 8, 2020

Less than two months after state-run COVID testing sites were overwhelmed with demand amid a surge in new infections, Florida officials are turning to a single private vendor to reduce operating costs for the sites, beginning with a Broward County site at the busiest intersection in Pembroke Pines.

The state will consolidate vendors for nurses, equipment and lab work at the testing site at C.B. Smith Park, according to Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz.

“We are rightsizing the testing sites,” he said, adding that the division is cutting costs as demand for tests has waned. He said the state is looking to make similar changes at other state-run testing sites.

One of the vendors who will no longer be working for the state at the park: Quest Laboratories, a private company that had a public breakup with Florida earlier this week. Gov. Ron DeSantis accused the company of unacceptable delays in sending results to the state on a day that health officials reported more than 7,500 cases, many of them outdated.

The state will outsource the operations at C.B. Smith Park to one vendor: CDR Maguire, a national contractor that has received nearly $86 million in state contracts since March for Florida’s pandemic response, supplying products including hand sanitizers, body bags, personal protective gear for healthcare workers and test kits, according to the state Department of Financial Services.

“Where we had these huge infrastructures built for 1,500 tests a day, if they’re now doing 500 tests a day, we’re reconfiguring them for 500 a day and doing a cost-benefit analysis,” Moskowitz said.

The move will also end the involvement of Memorial Healthcare System — southern Broward’s public hospital system — at the testing site, which had been providing nurses and testing help.

Moskowitz has said that the state is spending an unsustainable amount of money on keeping its state-run testing sites open.

By cutting costs, officials at the Division of Emergency Management are hoping to avoid having to shut the sites down altogether and be in a position to rapidly scale up the operations in the event of a surge.

State Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat who represents southern Broward County, said he didn’t agree with changing state-run testing sites to cut costs.

“We should all realize that COVID is real,” said Jones, who recovered from the virus along with his parents. “... To think that we’re just going to reopen our way out of this and be blind to the danger because we’re trying to save money, that’s irresponsible.”

Jones said he had spoken to Moskowitz earlier on Friday but had not heard of the changes at C.B. Smith Park’s testing site.

He said he trusts that Moskowitz is trying to maintain testing at its current levels in Broward County but that the governor’s office is downplaying the importance of testing.

“It’s irresponsible for us to downplay anything for something that is so real,” Jones said. “It’s right in our face.”

Miami Herald Staff Writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.

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