Two drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites in Miami-Dade County are converting to 15-minute tests Tuesday, the latest move in the state’s effort to decrease result turnaround times.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who announced the change during a Monday press conference, has lamented the fact that labs sometimes take more than a week to return test results. Under contract, commercial labs are supposed to return tests within 48 hours.
Testing sites at Marlins Park in Miami and Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens are transitioning to 15-minute Abbott Laboratories “instant” tests, which will let individuals leave the lot with their results.
“People want to know and want those results back,” the Governor said.
For symptomatic patients, a week-long turnaround likely isn’t helpful, he added. And for asymptomatic people, they likely haven’t been isolating between the time they were tested and the time they get results back. People may no longer even be infectious by the time they learn they were positive.
After approving the Abbott Laboratories test, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning that the 15-minute Abbott ID NOW, cautioning the test may return false negatives at a higher rate than the standard test. The Governor did not address the reported inconsistencies, but suggested the combined 1,250 daily tests will help provide a real-time look at outbreaks.
“If you’re looking at things like the positivity rate or some of these other things, a lot of times, that data can be stale,” DeSantis said.
The percent positivity rate among people who were possible new cases was 9.1% Sunday, the lowest it has been in a month. That marks two days of single-digit positivity rates while new diagnoses fell below 5,000 Monday and hospitalizations continued declining, “encouraging trends” the Governor said he hopes will continue.
In a further effort to reduce turnaround times, the state has launched priority testing lanes at drive-thru sites to serve people with symptoms, the elderly and first responders. Those special lanes will be available at all drive-thru sites providing the conventional tests.
Samples earmarked as priority tests should have results returned within 48 to 72 hours, DeSantis said.
“It’s all about lab prioritization, understanding that there’s a limited lab capacity for a quick turnaround, and if we can focus on those people that really need the test results the quickest, I think we’re going to be able to improve,” he added.
The Governor also encouraged Floridians to take antibody tests, which can show whether someone’s immune system has warded off the virus in recent weeks.
“We’ve seen the antibody rates increase throughout Florida. On some days we’ll test, 15, 16, 17 percent of the test-takers will be positive for antibodies. It’s not scientifically representative because it’s first-come, first-served, but I think that there’s a surprising amount of antibodies out there.”
Last month, he encouraged research institutions to partner with the state on a statewide antibody testing study.
According to the CDC, testing positive for COVID-19 antibodies may provide protection from contracting the virus again, though they note the antibodies may detect alternative coronavirus strains that may not provide protection from the current novel coronavirus. It’s also currently unknown how long or even if that protection would occur.