By Ryan Dailey, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Saying that the “federal government is not going to come through” on a plan to distribute at-home coronavirus tests, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday said the state is honing its own strategy to send tests to vulnerable Floridians.
DeSantis has made testing for COVID-19 the latest front in his clashes with President Joe Biden’s administration, after the White House last month announced a plan to distribute 500 million at-home coronavirus tests throughout the country. Distribution of the tests has not been launched yet.
During a press conference in Jacksonville Tuesday, DeSantis said the state isn’t waiting.
“As soon as we figured out the feds weren’t going to follow through on this, we’ve been working. We’re definitely going to be sending some at-home (tests). The question is how many,” DeSantis told reporters.
The governor’s comments came a day after state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo announced the Florida Department of Health intends to publish new testing guidelines aimed at emphasizing “high-value testing,” which he said would target seniors and medically vulnerable individuals.
Ladapo, teasing the state’s new testing guidance on Monday, said it would seek to “unwind the testing psychology” of the federal government.
Asked about Ladapo’s comments, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday deferred to “our own health and medical experts on when tests should be administered and utilized.”
During Tuesday’s press conference with DeSantis, Ladapo added some clarity to the state plan. He said the guidance will be geared toward “populations for whom testing is more likely to change outcomes.”
“The guidance that we’re going to be putting out will be talking about … testing based on risk factors, based on risk level. Because that’s the primary item that determines whether or not a test is actually likely to make a difference,” Ladapo said.
DeSantis said his administration intends to prioritize nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, senior communities and local emergency-management and health departments for the tests.
Amid skyrocketing COVID-19 cases driven by the highly contagious omicron variant of the virus, DeSantis also criticized the use of tests as a way to clear people for air travel or a return to work.
“A lot of those tests are not a good use of testing. Testing really needs to be focused on the people that have clinical symptoms. So you have people that are symptomatic, and they may not have as good of access because you have so many other tests being used in ways which really aren’t a good use of resources,” the governor said.
As DeSantis and Ladapo take aim at mass testing, the state Department of Health on Friday released a report that showed 298,455 new coronavirus cases were recorded in the week that ended Dec. 30 — more than double the number of cases reported a week earlier.
Amid the delay in the roll-out of Biden’s plan, DeSantis — who is widely speculated as a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate — appears to be pushing for a race with the federal government to get tests shipped out first.
Biden on Tuesday said that new federal testing sites are being set up across the country. At-home test kits will be available within weeks, according to the president.
“As I announced recently, the federal government is launching a website this month where you can get tests shipped to your home for free upon your request,” Biden said during a White House COVID-19 Response Team meeting.
The president also said that a federal requirement that insurance companies reimburse Americans for at-home tests will take effect next week.
Florida Democrats on Tuesday blasted DeSantis’ plan to cut down on coronavirus testing for the broader population of people as COVID-19 cases continue to climb.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, said Tuesday the governor’s approach is “less tests means less cases.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the proposal “isn’t based on science, and it ignores the reality that people find themselves in.”
“So many Florida families have multi-generational households, which makes the governor and surgeon general’s plan to discourage testing for asymptomatic people and children downright dangerous,” Wasserman Schultz told reporters.
— News Service assignment manager Tom Urban contributed to this report