Florida officials admitted on Thursday that they had stored up to a million coronavirus test kits in a warehouse that had expired just before New Year’s Eve. The explanation comes as Florida remains one of the hardest hit by COVID-19, with some residents saying they are “desperate” to find tests.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat running for governor, first accused current Governor Ron DeSantis of stockpiling on Dec. 30, saying the Department of Health had passed a “significant number” of tests. .
“As Omicron infections explode across Florida, I beg him to immediately release these tests to local counties and cities, and to set up state-sponsored testing sites,” Fried had said. “Having these tests passed while Floridians wait anxiously in test lines for hours is negligent at best and heartless at worst.”
She told CBS News on Friday that as COVID began to ramp up in the state around December 20, she began discussing the situation with other local leaders. Shortly after, she spoke to a person she described as “pretty high in the governor’s office.”
That person, she said, told her about the tests and did not want their name used “because this governor has a tendency to retaliate and they would most likely lose their jobs,” Fried said.
The DeSantis office denied the allegation earlier this week in an email to CBS affiliate WTSP. But on Thursday, DeSantis and other officials admitted at a news conference in West Palm Beach that the tests had expired.
“We had between 800,000 and a million test kits — Abbott test kits — in our warehouse that were expired,” said Kevin Guthrie, director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, at the conference. “We tried to hand them out before, but there was no demand for them.”
Guthrie said the state was given a three-month extension for the kits expiring between December 26 and 30, about a week after Fried first learned of the tests.
“Before that date, we asked Abbott and the federal government for an additional three-month extension so we could use those tests,” Guthrie said. “We’re still waiting to hear about that from HHS.”
DeSantis then said the state does not want to send out “inaccurate tests.”
“They were already extended in September. There wasn’t much demand for them,” says DeSantis. “They sent them in as requested. Nothing was withheld. It’s just that the FDA hasn’t gotten back to DEM to ask if you can still ship.”
Jeremy Redfern, the health department press secretary, tweeted On Thursday, Fried said he was just “big angry” that the state was “too well prepared for another wave of COVID-19”.
He told CBS News that it is “simply incorrect” to suggest that the state was “waiting for these test kits to expire,” and that the prepackaged kits should be administered by “trained individuals,” because they are not designed for individual use.
“The FDA granted the test manufacturer a three-month extension in May 2021,” Redfern told CBS News. “The original expiration date of the test kits in question was September 2021. The manufacturer has also informed us that they have resubmitted an extension request.”
DeSantis said the state had intended to provide “a lot” of the stored tests to long-term care facilities when they received them, but the facilities claimed they had no staff on hand to take them.
He pointed to Omicron for the Florida testing shortage, saying there was “not a lot of COVID going around” in the summer and fall, leading to “low demand.”
“Florida had one of the lowest COVID rates in the country during the fall, so demand for testing was correspondingly low,” DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw told CBS News. “Although tests have gone unused due to insufficient demand, as the governor said, it is better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.”
Still, Florida reported in early August:of COVID-19 – which at the time was the most infections in one day since the start of the pandemic. Infections in the state are now on the rise, with a record nearly 77,000 new cases reported on Friday.
The state currently has the second highest 28-day average of COVID cases in the US, with more than 745,200 reported cases in that time frame, according to Johns Hopkins University, and 615 deaths. The state has had nearly 4.5 million cases since COVID first hit the nation.
Many Florida residents have questioned DeSantis’ claim that the tests are in low demand.
In the week leading up to December 30, more than a million COVID tests were performed in Florida, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than 3 million in the month leading up to that date.
“I’ve been crawling around the state for the past 4 days looking for [over the counter] test for my whole family who are sick,” one person tweeted this week. “I can’t find one. You can’t even book a 2-week drive-thru appointment.”
“Spoken to a friend in Florida. He’s desperate”, another person tweeted on Dec 30. “He has to get his 90-year-old mother to have a Covid test and he can’t find a home test for one. The line for PCR is more than 4 hours long.”
Ryan Prem, a Florida resident, told CBS News that when he and his wife tried to get tested the week before Christmas, their local test site had a turnout of about 100 people. When they got back to the location closer to Christmas and New Years, he said, “It seemed double.”
“I can only imagine how many people tested positive,” he told CBS News. “I personally know about 15 people who tested positive in the past 2-3 weeks, although a majority of them had previously been fully vaccinated.”
The long lines and hard-to-find tests are not new to the state, and people have expressed frustration with the process for months. In November, one person tweeted they “can’t find a covid test anywhere.”
Fried told CBS News she had asked the governor to reopen state-run testing sites, which had been closed since May, before learning about the stock.
“As of today,” she said on Friday, “we still don’t have any state-sponsored test sites.”
“The lines wrapped around for hours, starting before the crack of dawn,” Fried said. “People are in these cars and in these rows to get tests and to say there’s no question — I don’t know where the governor was, but he just had to drive through part of our state and would have seen the ask on the floor.”
Fried tweeted Thursday that the administration’s inaction on the expired tests is “a complete failure”. Officials, she said, should have distributed the tests to facilities across the state.
DeSantis’ disclosure of the expired tests came the same day the Florida Department of Health changed its testing guidelines to maximize “the benefits” of COVID testing. The new guideline says those who are not at increased risk of serious illness from COVID, including those over 65, with underlying health conditions, or who are pregnant, should “consider” getting tested after developing symptoms and seeking medical advice only. should seek treatment if necessary.
For those who have been exposed to COVID but have no symptoms, the guidance says, “Testing is unlikely to have any clinical benefit.”
“If you develop symptoms, you should avoid contact with others,” a guidance press release says. “A positive COVID-19 test result will not change this recommendation.”