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Coronavirus in Florida

‘Instant’ coronavirus tests now available in Florida hospitals

Hospitals started using the five-minute tests Sunday.

Some major Florida hospitals now have access to five-minute COVID-19 tests, a possible relief for a health care system inundated with coronavirus patients.

During a Monday roundtable, Gov. Ron DeSantis called the tests, produced by Abbott Laboratories, a “game changer” for nursing homes, hospitals and public servants potentially exposed to the novel coronavirus. Only a tenth of people tested for COVID-19 have returned positive in Florida, but health workers must treat everyone with pending results with the same precautions as someone with the disease.

“When you have to wait 48, 72 hours for a test result, those are people that you’ve got to keep in the hospital most likely,” the Governor said.

Hospitals could conserve physical resources, and exposed staff would not have to isolate as long, increasing the available manpower. And for nursing home residents sent to the hospital, they could be potentially returned to their nursing home quicker.

After talks with Abbott Laboratories, company Vice President Tom Evers on Saturday and President Donald Trump, DeSantis said he secured some of the tests, of which only 50,000 are produced a day. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the “instant” tests at the end of last month.

While Abbott tests were only sent to some major hospitals, hospital systems are working to redistribute additional tests to expand statewide coverage. Florida hospitals first received the tests Sunday.

Additionally, DeSantis said he would have a call Monday with a company that has an FDA-approved antibodies test to discover whether an individual has developed an immunity to the virus, but the call did not appear on his daily schedule. The test would allow the state to better understand where the virus has spread and give some medical professionals with antibodies more freedom to work the front lines.

As of Monday evening, there are 13,629 COVID-19 cases in Florida, including 254 fatalities and 1,720 hospitalizations. About 43.1% of hospital beds are available in Florida, including 40.6% in Miami-Dade County and 44.7% in Broward County, the two hardest hit counties.

Department of Health officials first confirmed the coronavirus in Florida at the start of last month, but the Governor has said it could have been circulating in Florida in February. He reiterated that Monday.

“This thing was in China in November. I don’t think it takes four months to get to the United States,” DeSantis said. “We have flights every day. There were hundreds of thousands of people that came from China in December and January before the flights were shut off.”

Last week’s executive order asking Floridians to stay home cleared the way for religious services to continue as long as they maintained federal social distancing guidelines. With Holy Week now underway, churches have been innovative, DeSantis said, with some adopting online services or letting parishioners attend from the comfort of their cars.

“We want people during this time to be spiritually together but to remain socially distant,” he added. “Please keep God close, but please keep COVID away.”

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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