Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo on Thursday released COVID-19 testing “guidance and recommendations” that he says are meant to “maximize the benefits of COVID-19 testing in Florida,” although they are not binding on any health care providers.
Ladapo recommended that people who are at increased risk of severe illness and who have COVID-19 symptoms get tested after onset of symptoms. He said they should seek early monoclonal antibody or antiviral drug treatment and seek other medical treatment as necessary.
Testing is optional, under Ladapo’s guidance, for symptomatic people who are not at an increased risk for severe illness.
The guidelines also recommend that people infected with COVID-19 and who are symptomatic “should avoid contact with others.” But it does not spell out how long people isolate themselves from others to avoid spreading the latest variant of the deadly virus.
Ladapo’s recommendations do not include the words “isolate” or “quarantine” or “masks.”
The guidelines were released Thursday shortly after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Fox News that the state was going to send up to 1 million tests to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The announcement was met with praise from the long-term care industry.
Ladapo’s guidance also does not differ based on whether a person is vaccinated, unvaccinated or has previously been infected with COVID-19.
The new guidelines come the same week DeSantis and Ladapo contended that federal authorities were recommending too much testing The over-testing remark echoed former President Donald Trump’s comments during the first wave of the pandemic in early 2020.
It also comes as Florida has been dealing with yet another spike in the number of cases, although the latest surge has not resulted in the same level of hospitalizations that occurred during the height of last summer’s wave caused by the delta variant.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its testing recommendations last week, shortening the isolation time for asymptomatic COVID-19 positive people from 10 days to five days. Asymptomatic people can come out of isolation after five days and wear masks while around others for another five days under the CDC’s new guidelines.
Another difference between the CDC’s new guidelines and the ones issued by Florida’s is that the federal government’s recommendations vary based on vaccination status. The CDC recommends that vaccinated people who have been exposed to COVID-19 wear masks while around others for 10 days and get evaluated for COVID-19 five days after their exposure.
Unvaccinated people who have been exposed to COVID-19 should stay at home for five days and thereafter wear a mask around others for another five days, per the CDC.
Regardless of vaccination status, the CDC recommends people who are infected with COVID-19 stay at home for five days. If they are asymptomatic or their COVID-19 symptoms are waning after five days, infected people can leave their homes. But the CDC recommends they continue to wear masks around others for an additional five days.
The CDC’s guidelines, which were tweaked Thursday, have been criticized by the American Medical Association as confusing.
Florida’s new COVID-19 guidelines and the CDC’s altered policies come as the omicron variant wave has caused long lines at testing sites and has wiped at-home rapid tests from store shelves.
Ladapo and DeSantis have blamed the push by residents to get tested on a “psychology” they contend was fostered by federal health authorities.
“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 said.
But the DeSantis administration acknowledged Thursday that it let between 800,000 and 1 million of the state’s COVID-19 test kits expire at the end of December.
The Department of Emergency Management, which is in control of the state’s testing stockpile, says the expired tests have not contributed to the long lines for testing because there was not a demand for tests at the end of December when they expired.
Agriculture Commissioner and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Nikki Fried broke the news that the tests had expired.