‘Test and treat’ bill for flu, strep could help catch coronavirus before it spreads
An illustration of the influenza virus cells.

Influenza virus cells.
A simple swab test could rule out coronavirus.

With more than 40,000 infections and 900 deaths, coronavirus is full blown pandemic.

As of Monday, a dozen cases of had been confirmed in the U.S., and global health experts warn that could be “the tip of the iceberg.

There hasn’t been a case in Florida yet — not a confirmed one, at least — but as a tourist destination, chances are it’s a matter of time.

The disease is particularly insidious in that the early signs of infection are similar to the common cold or flu. During winter months, many people brush off the symptoms and tough it out rather than taking the time to schedule a visit to the doctor.

The flu is already dangerous, causing 5 million cases of severe illness worldwide and killing 650,000 people a year. So far this year, influenza has already killed more than 8,200 people in the U.S.

Florida’s older residents are particularly vulnerable to the flu, yet only about half get vaccinated. During the 2016-2017 flu season, approximately 55% of older adults were vaccinated against influenza. Yet, in that same flu season, roughly 86% of all influenza-related hospitalizations were of older adults, and adults 65 years of age and older went to the hospital twice as often as all other age groups combined.

Diagnosing the flu — or coronavirus — in the early stages is key to preventing it from becoming severe or spreading to others.

Lawmakers have considered legislation in the past couple Legislative Sessions that would make it easier for Floridians to be tested and treated for the flu by allowing pharmacists to do a simple “swab” test to determine whether someone has influenza or strep throat. The test results are nearly immediate.

The 2020 version, HB 389 by Rep. Tyler Sirois, has already cleared a couple committees. Yet the Senate companion, SB 714 by Sen. Travis Hutson, hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing in its first committee.

The flu does enough damage on its own, and coronavirus has the potential to harm even more Floridians, making the ability to rule it out through at the corner drugstore a simple solution to a complex public health problem.

Florida law already allows pharmacists to administer flu shots, and they are more than qualified to swab a customer’s cheek.

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.


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