DeSantis Teases Arrival Of COVID-19 Antibody Tests; DOH's 'Total' Test Count Includes Re-Tests
Governor Ron DeSantis wants two emerging methods of testing to bolster Florida’s efforts heading into summer, as he’s set a goal for the three state-run labs to stand ready to process “tens of thousands” per day over the coming months.
Speaking alongside medical professionals at Orlando Health on Sunday, DeSantis said the state is awaiting its first shipment of serology, or antibody tests for COVID-19.
“We’re getting our first shipment on May 1,” DeSantis told reporters, “We’ve had the one that’s FDA approved stuck in China for two weeks. They sent one shipment to New York, they haven’t been able to get any more out of China.”
DeSantis says findings from the antibody tests will answer key questions he and other officials have about COVID-19.
“If you’re working at a nursing home and you have the antibodies, well you’re definitely less risk to the residents. So, that’s very important to know. People who work in hospitals, if they have the antibodies, nurses, doctors – that’s very important to know,” DeSantis said. “It’s also very important to know the prevalence of these antibodies throughout society, because that allows us to determine, what’s the true hospitalization rate for people that get infected.”
But Orlando Health’s Dr. Sunil Desai says even once those antibody tests are available, there will be deeper questions to contemplate based on what data they yield.
“The antibody tests, once we figure out what we actually mean – is the immunity long-lasting? We don’t know how long it lasts, we don’t know who will be immune,” Desai said.
DeSantis also hinted at "new" self-testing kits for COVID-19 that can be "mailed in," being one thing that could expand testing heading into summer. Private testing company LabCorp got an emergency authorization to distribute them from the Food and Drug Administration last week. Its distribution will be prioritized to healthcare workers and first responders, the company says.
DeSantis emphasized a trend of a falling positivity rate in Florida – comparing the day with the largest amount of new Florida cases earlier this month, to Saturday’s numbers.
“The most new Florida cases that we’ve had was on April 3, there was 1,317 new Florida cases. That day, the total number of tests that were received was 11,725. So that’s a positivity rate that isn’t New York level or Boston or some of these other places – but that’s between 10 or 15 percent,” DeSantis said, the number being 11.2 percent. “If you look at yesterday (Saturday, April 25) we had 823 new Florida cases reported, out of 19,342 (tests received).”
That means Saturday’s cases reported positive by the Florida Department of Health was about 4.3 percent of the tests received.
DeSantis was pressed on one aspect of DOH’s reporting – the “total” number tested. As of Sunday afternoon, that number read more than 344,000 on the agency’s website. But, DeSantis clarified during the weekend press conference – that number doesn’t represent unique individuals tested.
“If LabCorp sends in (to DOH) 5,000 test results, LabCorp does not distinguish between someone who’s never had a test, or someone who tested positive and tested negative twice. It’s just not the way it’s done. So, we feel getting the information out, explaining how it’s done on the second page, probably makes sense.”
The Governor defended the agency’s practice:
“It’s not misleading, because you have to understand – the labs report, they dump the results to the Department of Health. So what the Department of Health does is, they put it on the dashboard immediately, so that people have the information.”
DeSantis said he wants DOH to look at further "parsing out" the testing data, in an effort to isolate that number of "fresh tests."
"The percentage positive, if you include all the tests - it's higher, than if you only have the fresh tests. So I want just the fresh tests, that's better," he said.
Meanwhile, hospitals want to start recovering from a significant financial hit taken from COVID-19. Orlando Health’s Dr. George Ralls, who spoke alongside DeSantis, says that’s been caused by the halting of elective surgeries, and people generally avoiding hospitals.
Ralls says it isn’t just hospitals that have been hurt, but it is creating a "surge of unmet medical needs.” He used the governor’s press conference as a platform to make a plea to Floridians: Start going to the hospital again, when you need to.
“The health system is overwhelmingly prepared with equipment, beds, staffing. I am 100 percent confident that we can handle the patients that we’ve put off (their), and I use the term loosely, elective surgeries,” Ralls said.
Ralls added he’s seen patients who ignored symptoms in an effort to stay out of the hospital, exacerbating a health problem.
“It is time to come back and get your healthcare,” Ralls said.
DeSantis has teased a return of elective surgeries, which were halted on March 20. His executive order doing so expires May 8, but the Governor has suggested it could be lifted before then.