Ed. note: This story has been updated to reflect the Governor’s Office response.
Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ office is pushing back against allegations that someone working for the administration leaked information about undistributed COVID-19 tests to one of DeSantis’ chief political rivals.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried contended during a radio hit Thursday that a DeSantis staffer leaked information about 1 million expired-but-unused rapid COVID-19 tests to her because he felt it was important to get the information out.
“It was a very high-profile individual in the DeSantis administration,” Fried said during a segment on WJCT’s First Coast Connect.
Asked why someone from the Governor’s Office divulged this information, Fried said the person wanted to ensure information was getting out to the public about the tests that expired while housed by the state last year, ahead of the omicron surge over the holidays.
“Because they were concerned. And it was somebody who wanted to make sure that information was going out. But obviously, I want to protect that individual because I know that this Governor would have him fired — them fired — almost instantaneously, and so I will protect that person’s anonymity. But this person was very clear about what was happening,” Fried said.
Fried offered no further clues about the identity of the alleged leaker.
When contacted for comment Thursday morning in the wake of Fried’s comments, DeSantis’ press secretary Christine Pushaw responded:
“After receiving an initial extension in September, the administration was actively working to extend the December expiration date of the Binax tests, while still distributing nearly 375,000 tests in December. This was common knowledge as it was well communicated with county health departments and county emergency management agencies by the Department of Health (DOH) and the Division of Emergency Management (DEM).
“As a result of these efforts, the manufacturer received a 3-month extension on the shelf-life expiration date for the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card. This extension allows for a shelf-life of 15 months, pushing the expiration date to March 2022. 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.
“It is unfortunate for Floridians that instead of doing the job she was elected to do, the Agriculture Commissioner shamelessly attempts to perpetuate an already debunked and discredited narrative.”
These tests have already expired twice, but the federal government gave them new life this week. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted a new three-month extension to the expiration date of the tests. They first expired in September, after the worst of the delta variant had passed in Florida.
With that extension, the tests are now again available for use in Florida after their December expiration date rendered them unusable for weeks.
“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.”