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News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida and WUSF can help. Our responsibility at WUSF News is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

DeSantis Loosens Coronavirus Testing Criteria To Help Better Measure Spread

Ron DeSantis at the podium
Sky Lebron/WJCT
Governor Ron DeSantis (at podium), Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and other officials announced a loosening of restrictions for COVID-19 testing at the TIAA Bank Field site.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was at the TIAA Bank Field Lot J COVID-19 testing site in Jacksonville on Friday afternoon, where he announced testing criteria will be loosened for people who are asymptomatic.

“Anybody who has had close, sustained contact with an individual that has recently tested positive for COVID-19 may get tested,” DeSantis said. “Even if you personally haven't developed symptoms, I think what we're trying to do is get a sense of people that are asymptomatic, who may be carrying the virus and maybe spreading the virus.”

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First responders, health care workers, and people who are showing symptoms can still get tested at the Lot J site as well.

This expansion of criteria will begin Monday, and it will also apply to the federal testing sites in Orlando and Miami.

Earlier in the week, the Department of Health and Human Services said the federal government was pulling out of testing sites.

“This was only supposed to go to April 10,” DeSantis said. “And then the feds were gonna either turn it over to us or let it go. But I thought that it was important to keep it going.”

Now, the department has changed that language, saying local governments can decide whether or not they will run the site locally or still use federal help.

DeSantis said the state will continue receiving supplies from the federal government, but state government will take over running the sites. This will allow more tests to be conducted at each site daily.

“We want to do more than 250 a day,” DeSantis said. “The demand is there.”

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On Thursday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said in a video news conference that the site will increase to 400 tests conducted daily.  

At this stage, about one in every 140 Floridians have been tested for COVID-19, according to DeSantis.

The governor more varieties of testing will be done across the state, including rapid testing. A 45-minute test has been distributed throughout the state, along with a five-minute test.

Ascension St. Vincent’s received some of the latter, according to DeSantis.

In Duval County, 45% of hospital beds are still available, and almost 48% of Intensive Care Unit beds are still open, according to DeSantis.

Mayor Curry also spoke at the news conference, saying that the National Guard will begin helping out at the Lot J site.

“Monday, they'll begin running shifts, which will allow our first responders - Jacksonville Fire Rescue, and police officers - some of those to get back to some of the stuff they do in terms of caring for people in our community outside of this site,” Curry said.

Statewide, 225,755 unemployment claims have been filed.  Due to difficulties accessing the online unemployment site, 12,000 of the claims have been received by mail.

“The amount of unemployment claims nationwide in just a few weeks period, I think it took us a year, or certainly many months, to be able to reach this level of claims during the Great Recession,” DeSantis said. “So this is a shock like we've never seen before.”

To meet the demand, DeSantis said he’s ordered the state to beef up the unemployment call center, and put 2,000 state employees on the task of processing the claims.

On Thursday, DeSantis incorrectly said at a press conference that no one under the age of 25 had died of COVID-19.

Friday, DeSantis said what he meant was statewide: “Not in Florida,” DeSantis said. “In Florida, we’ve had no fatalities under 25. So in the state of Florida, if you look at 85-plus percent of our fatalities are 65 and up.”

The Washington Post reports at least nine people under the age of 20 nationwide have died of COVID-19. Over 40 deaths have been recorded for people in their 20’s.

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.