Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried apologized to Floridians Thursday after the leader of Florida’s pandemic response confirmed up to 1 million unused COVID-19 tests expired in state custody.
Fried’s apology came hours after Division of Emergency Management (DEM) Director Kevin Guthrie confirmed the expiration.
A longtime critic of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Fried accused the Republican Governor of reckless leadership amid the pandemic. She also characterized the incident as the latest example in a long line of leadership failures. DeSantis, she argued, has proven himself “ill-prepared” to manage the state.
“This Governor is not fit to serve,” Fried told reporters in West Palm Beach. “He should have known that this stockpile of tests could have been distributed all throughout the state. This is not only a (dereliction) of responsibility. But this is a complete failure of this Governor.”
News of the expiring tests came to light in late December after Fried published a warning on social media. In a statement, she “begged” DeSantis to release the tests, noting that Floridians are facing long wait times at testing sites amid a spike of positive cases.
The Florida Department of Health, however, quickly dismissed the report at the time.
“It’s come to my attention that Nikki Fried needs to turn on that blinker and get back her in lane,” responded DOH Press Secretary Jeremy Redfern on social media.
How exactly Fried learned of the expiring tests remains unknown. When asked by reporters, though, she described the source as someone “high up” serving at an executive agency.
DEM, which operates under the Governor’s Office, manages the state’s testing stockpile. The stockpile is available to hospitals, nursing homes and state-supported response hubs.
Before the tests expired, DEM requested an extension to those expiration dates from Abbott Laboratories and the federal government. That request, however, has gone unanswered, Guthrie said. The batch of rapid tests expired between Dec. 26 and Dec. 30.
Fried is one of three major Democratic candidates vying to lead the party atop the 2022 ticket. She has bolstered her profile during the pandemic as a frequent critic of DeSantis, appearing often before national audiences on outlets such as CNN and MSNBC.
During Florida’s summer delta wave, she routinely hosted COVID-19 press conferences, sometimes arguing she was filling a leadership void left by DeSantis.
She echoed that sentiment Thursday.
“I want to apologize to the people of our state,” Fried said. “You need a better leader, you need somebody who’s going to stand up, and stand up for you, and show up.”
Guthrie’s confirmation came during DeSantis’ news conference in West Palm Beach, in which the Governor highlighted the state’s acquisition of 1 million at-home rapid tests.