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Florida can still use those 1 million expired COVID-19 tests, after all

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried had sharply criticized Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration for not putting them to use.
Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried talk about COVID-19 test kits at the Florida Capitol on Tuesday.
Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried talk about COVID-19 test kits at the Florida Capitol on Tuesday. [ KIRBY WILSON | Times Staff ]
Published Jan. 11|Updated Jan. 11

TALLAHASSEE — At the Florida Capitol on Tuesday, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie ran into Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. He had news for her.

The federal government has agreed to give Florida another three-month extension to use the nearly 1 million rapid COVID-19 test kits that expired in a state warehouse at the end of December, Guthrie said.

Fried, Florida’s lone statewide elected Democrat and a candidate for governor, had sharply criticized the DeSantis administration for letting the kits expire as the omicron coronavirus wave left thousands of Floridians scrambling for a test. In a statement last week, she called the governor’s actions a “disgrace” and accused his team of having “lied and covered up the massive failure of a million unused tests.”

In response to the initial criticism, Department of Health spokesperson Jeremy Redfern tweeted, “Nikki Fried needs to turn on that blinker and get back in her lane.”

Tuesday’s brief chat with Guthrie appeared more cordial.

“Emergency management is a part of public safety. There is no left side of the aisle, right side of the aisle,” Guthrie said afterward. “I have a very good working relationship on both sides of the aisle, to include a professional working relationship with Commissioner Fried.”

In an emailed statement, Fried said she never had a problem with Guthrie.

“Floridians were waiting hours in lines to receive potentially lifesaving information while the state was sitting on expiring tests,” she wrote. “Now that we know their usage is going to be extended, my question for the governor is this: What is the plan to immediately get them out to the public?”

The test kits, which were not meant for individual use, had already expired once before, in September. But the federal government gave the state an extension until late December to use the kits, Guthrie said at a news conference last week.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration was able to extend the expiration date of the test kits by updating the product’s emergency use authorization. Abbott Diagnostics, the manufacturer of the kits, was proved to the federal government that the test kits would remain stable for at least 15 months if stored at room temperature, according to a Jan. 7 letter from the FDA obtained by the Times/Herald. That timeline would cover the tests through the next three months.

Until omicron hit Florida in December, there was relatively little demand for the kits by local governments, so they went unused, Guthrie said.

The state did not want to give away the test kits after the late December deadline because officials did not want Floridians using faulty tests, a DeSantis spokesperson wrote in an email last week.

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Related: No need to test for COVID-19 if asymptomatic, Florida health department says

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