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Since the start of the month, when Florida’s state health labs declared their ability to test for the novel coronavirus that causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, questions have mounted over how that testing actually works.
Who can be tested, and where? How many tests can be run per day? How much will private lab testing help expand capacity, and when does that start?
To date, the state labs in Miami, Jacksonville and Tampa have run nearly 400 tests, with more than 150 of those still awaiting results, according to the Florida Department of Health’s Tuesday morning update.
In response to a series of questions from the Times/Herald, a spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office shed new light on how the reported numbers have come to be, who will be tested going forward and when the state is expecting help from the private sector.
This interview with spokesperson Helen Ferré was edited for clarity.
Has the Florida Department of Health received more testing kits? When are they expected?
The state of Florida has ordered more kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and officials are expecting a shipment this week.
More than 500 specimens can be run for results on a single testing kit.
Who can collect specimens to send out for testing? Is it only county health officials, or can other healthcare professionals collect and send tests?
All healthcare providers and medical professionals can collect specimens for COVID-19 testing.
How will private labs play a role in testing?
Private labs will begin testing in South Florida next week. Healthcare providers can send specimens to commercial labs for COVID-19 testing. Test results will be reported on the (Department of Health) website.
We still don’t have a figure for how many COVID-19 tests could be run per day. Why has this figure not been provided?
At this time, we have the ability to meet the testing demand and received additional testing kits last week with more to come. If there is a limit to how many tests we can run per day, we have not yet reached that point.
Should the demand for testing grow, (the Department of Health) is able to contract with private labs for additional testing. (State) labs are running seven days a week, on overtime.
Does the Department of Health anticipate extending testing criteria to meet Centers for Disease Control guidelines?
(The Department of Health) sent new guidance today via a clinical screening tool.
According to the guidance, a person should be tested by state health officials if they have had close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, if they are part of a suspected outbreak, if they have been hospitalized with unexplained cough or shortness of breath, or if they have recently traveled to or from an area with widespread transmission of the virus.
A person’s physician might submit their specimens for testing at a commercial lab run by LabCorp or Quest Diagnostics, which both recently announced they would start testing for the novel coronavirus. If someone attended a gathering or stayed on a cruise ship where there have been confirmed cases. They should also be tested if they are older than 65 years old and have chronic medical conditions or have symptoms of cough or shortness of breath.
We’ve heard from people who say they are told by their doctors to go to county health departments, then directed by the health department to another health facility. How do people know where to go to get tested?
Individuals can consult their healthcare provider for COVID-19 testing. Providers then collect specimens for COVID-19 and those specimens are sent to either (Department of Health) labs or commercial labs.
Additionally, there is a 24-hour hotline that is handling questions: 1-(866) 779-6121 and a frequently updated website at www.FLHealth.gov.
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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus guide
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