(CNN) – Amid a winter surge of coronavirus cases that fueled a nationwide scramble for tests last month, 1 million unused COVID-19 rapid test kits at a Florida warehouse expired, one of the state’s top official said on Thursday.
The kit, manufactured by Abbott Laboratories, expired “before December 26 through December 30,” Florida Department of Emergency Management director Kevin Guthrie said during a news conference.
For weeks, Floridians have waited hours for testing, with long lines first reported in mid-December as the rapidly spreading Omicron variant appeared in the state.
Kits were not distributed to clinics and providers reportedly due to lack of demand in the fall. It is not clear whether Florida could have distributed its surplus supplies to other states where tests were in greater demand. The Florida Department of Emergency Management did not immediately respond to CNN when asked whether the state had considered sharing the tests before they ended. The US Department of Health and Human Services did not say whether there was a national protocol for redistributing untested tests.
State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the Democratic candidate for governor in Florida, said publicly last week that the state had an expired stockpile of test kits that it had not distributed. In a statement, she urged Governor Ron DeSantis to deliver supplies to local testing sites to reduce long lines.
A Florida Department of Health official mocked Fried’s statements on Twitter at the time. “It has come to my attention that (Nikki Fried) needs to turn on that blinker and go back to his street,” Jeremy Redfern wrote on December 30.
Asked about Fried’s allegation at Thursday’s news conference in West Palm Beach, DeSantis said, “Kevin can talk about what he has in the DEM,” and handed the microphone to Guthrie, who Confirmed that 800,000 to 1 million tests had been exhausted.
Guthrie said the state has asked the federal government for a three-month extension of the expiration date of the expired tests, but has received no response. Guthrie said the federal government had already extended the duration of the tests to 90 days. The US Food and Drug Administration did not respond to CNN’s questions about the status of Florida’s request.
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have risen sharply in Florida in recent weeks. According to Johns Hopkins University, an average of 37,563 new cases are being reported in the state in the last one week. This week, a new report from public health experts at the University of Florida predicted that the latest outbreak would lead to many more infections than previous waves, “potentially infecting much of the state’s population.” While the infection may be less severe, the volume of cases could still make it the second deadliest wave of the pandemic, the model suggested.
DeSantis has downplayed the need to make COVID-19 tests more widely available to the general public, calling it “not a good use of resources”.
In a bid to ease some of the testing pressure in Florida, DeSantis announced Thursday that his administration will provide 1 million at-home COVID-fighting facilities and other elder care providers as part of its “Seniors First” strategy for the pandemic. Will deliver 19 tests.
Guthrie said home tests would be sent to providers over the weekend.
Biden has vowed to make 500 million tests available to Americans for free, though White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week that the administration was still finalizing contracts. DeSantis criticized Biden for not acting more quickly and suggested the administration may be struggling to deliver on its promise.
“I don’t know if there is any possibility for the federal government to follow through,” he said.
During Thursday’s White House press briefing, Psaki dismissed DeSantis’ comments as “coming from someone who hasn’t advocated for vaccinations to people in their state.”
“If[DeSantis]wants to be a creative part of this process, perhaps they should encourage what scientists say is the best way to save lives, prevent and reduce hospitalizations,” said Saki. , and it’s getting vaccinated and promoted.”
On Thursday, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo issued new guidance for testing, discouraging people without symptoms from testing, even if they have recently reported exposure. The goal, DeSantis said, is to ensure that those at highest risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 have access to testing.
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