CLEARWATER — Starting this week, hundreds of thousands of new rapid coronavirus tests will be sent to Florida every week, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday.
The tests, over 150 million of which were bought by the federal government earlier this year, take 15 minutes to register a positive or negative result. The tested person is given a nasal swab, but no lab is required to process it.
Some 6.4 million kits, which are made by Abbott Laboratories, will be sent to the state in the coming weeks, 400,000 tests per week, DeSantis said. The Florida Division of Emergency Management, which is led by Jared Moskowitz, will manage the distribution of the kits.
“This is probably as happy as I’ve been about testing in an awful long time,” DeSantis said, contending that there isn’t as much demand for coronavirus testing as there had been during the state’s summer surge.
Moskowitz, for his part, called the new tests a “game-changer."
DeSantis, speaking at a news conference at BayCare’s Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, said that the rapid tests would be prioritized for seniors and schoolchildren. That accomplishes two goals, he said: protecting the elderly population that is most susceptible to the worst effects of the disease, and keeping kids in schools.
The federal government will also give additional tests — beyond the 6.4 million which will be distributed by the state — directly to long term care facilities.
The nearly instantaneous results will help vulnerable residents regain some of the freedom they’ve lost during the pandemic, DeSantis said.
“We talk about protecting people that are most vulnerable,” he said. “That cannot mean that you just isolate vulnerable people and not let them enjoy life.”
DeSantis said the rapid antigen tests will also stop schools from having to ask potentially COVID-19-exposed children to isolate while they await test results. He said he had confidence the rapid tests would be accurate.
The governor noted that statewide, the number of patients testing positive for coronavirus in intensive care units is down 73 percent from the peak in July. Daily hospital admissions for coronavirus infections are down 82 percent from the summer peak.
As Florida advances with the last phase of DeSantis' reopening plan that launched Friday, with all state-imposed capacity and operational restrictions on businesses lifted, the governor said he will be watching for increases in hospitalizations.
But he said another shutdown of the economy is not on the table.
“There’s not going to be any type of closure of Florida,” DeSantis said.
As of early Tuesday, the state had seen more than 704,000 reported coronvirus cases and 14,313 reported deaths.