Once-expired rapid COVID-19 tests are on their way to testing sites, but Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state plans to maintain its strategy to store some of the tests in the state stockpile.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted a three-month extension in a letter the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) received Monday. It marked the second three-month extension the federal agency had given to the batch of tests, which initially expired in September.
Some of the 1 million tests might not be used, DeSantis told reporters on Wednesday, adding that it’s contingent on demand. The Governor was asked whether he could guarantee all the tests would be used by their new expiration dates.
“I can’t say that there’s a guarantee, but I think that you have a lot higher demand for testing right now,” DeSantis said. “So my sense is that there’s going to be enough requests to at least get a lot of those out the door very, very quickly.”
The Governor’s critics, including Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, have attacked DeSantis for letting the tests expire rather than empty the state stockpile. But state officials, including Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie, said demand for the rapid tests was low during the period from September through December. FDOH officials said staff had continuously notified partners the tests were available, and Guthrie said the state attempted to distribute the tests prior to expiration.
The latest wave, driven by the omicron variant, flared up in mid-December. But Florida’s previous wave, dominated by the delta variant, was dying down in the late summer months.
Fried was the first to warn the tests had expired in state custody, but the state waited a week to confirm the reports, further drawing criticism.
On Friday, DeSantis said the state had been asking since November for the FDA to extend the late December expiration date on the batch of rapid tests. The letter extending the expirations was dated Friday, but FDOH told Florida Politics it received the OK on Monday.
“With the shelf-life extension granted, FDOH is continuing to push out test kits to county emergency management offices, county health departments, public safety agencies, hospitals and long-term care facilities,” FDOH spokesman Jeremy Redfern said.
DeSantis said the state was correct to not ship tests that may no longer be accurate. And he put blame on the FDA for any delay in getting the tests out.
“It took the FDA a long time, but it takes them a long time to do everything, unfortunately,” DeSantis said.
On Friday, the Governor defended the state’s decision to stockpile tests to make them available for testing facilities upon request. It was better to be over-prepared, he added Wednesday.
“At the end of the day, they bought too many. They did have a surplus for a while, and I think that’s probably better than to not,” DeSantis said.
Florida received the Abbott Laboratories rapid tests in 2020. In May, DOH requested and received a three-month extension ahead of the batch’s initial expiration dates, which were set for September.
Unlike the rapid tests Florida recently began distributing to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, the once-expired tests are not at-home tests. The samples are run 40 at a time rather than the one-at-a-time test that people can buy over the counter.
The Governor said there have been some questions about how accurate the rapid tests are at identifying omicron cases, but said the tests were going out regardless.
For Monday, the latest day with available data, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 47,709 new COVID-19 cases in Florida, with 4.8 million cases confirmed in the state throughout the pandemic. Florida also ranks fifth among states for new COVID-19 cases per capita, with 2,084.7 cases per 100,000 residents in the previous seven days.