Florida’s controversial top health official suggested Monday that too many people were getting tests for COVID-19, as reports continue to come in across the state about long lines and crowds waiting at testing sites.
State Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo blamed the push by residents to get tested on a “psychology” he contended was fostered by federal health authorities. He made the remarks at a press conference that his boss, Gov. Ron DeSantis, held to lay out how the state is responding to the rapid surge in infections.
Ladapo said the Florida Department of Health was going to work on its own guidelines on who should get tested, and he hinted that those guidelines would emphasize testing for those most vulnerable for serious illness and death, such as the elderly, and not those who are younger.
“My department’s goal is going to be to put out testing that doesn’t restrict access to testing, but reduces the use of low-value testing and prioritizes high-value testing,” Ladapo said. “And what do we mean by that? High-value testing is testing that is likely to change outcomes. So if your grandmother gets a test, that’s a much more valuable test than the 8-year-old third-graders Los Angeles County is sending in to get weekly testing, right? The first one is much more likely to change outcomes. So, we are going to be putting out guidance that puts more emphasis on that. And, so, we are going to be working to unwind the testing psychology that our federal leadership has managed to, unfortunately, get most of the country in over the last two years.”
Ladapo did not say exactly when those new guidelines would be released, and the DOH did not reply by press time to Florida Politics’ request for additional information. But Ladapo stressed that testing shouldn’t be foremost on peoples’ minds.
“It’s really time for people to be living,” Ladapo said. “To make the decisions they want regarding vaccination and to enjoy the fact that many people have natural immunity and to unwind this preoccupation with only COVID as determining the boundaries and constraints and possibilities of life.”
More than 4.1 million Floridians have been infected with COVID-19 and 62,504 have died as a result since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
Ladapo was brought in by the DeSantis administration in September to helm the Department of Health, replacing Dr. Scott Rivkees, who was seldom seen publicly with the Governor for much of the pandemic.
Ladapo has been an outspoken critic of both mask and vaccine mandates, but has also been skeptical of the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. His appointment is subject to confirmation by the GOP-controlled Florida Senate, but his confirmation remains an open question after a much-publicized incident in October where he was asked to leave the office of State Sen. Tina Polsky because he refused to wear a mask.
Senate President Wilton Simpson called Ladapo’s actions toward Polsky, who is battling cancer, “unprofessional.”
Florida hit a record number of COVID-19 cases last week, but both Ladapo and DeSantis said that it appears that omicron is not as virulent and dangerous as other variants of the disease.
The surge in new cases has led to reports of long lines in Central and South Florida. Local authorities have announced plans to expand the number of testing locations in counties such as Broward.