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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, Ladapo introduce more antibody sites and a shift to 'high-value' testing

Ron DeSantis speaking at a podium
Gov. Ron DeSantis
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As case numbers rise, Gov. Ron DeSantis says hospitals should be reporting how many patients are hospitalized because of COVID, versus how many are hospitalized for something else and test positive.

The governor and surgeon general point to residents who get tested "multiple times per week" without COVID symptoms and will add state guidance to “unwind the testing psychology” of the Biden administration.

Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the highly contagious omicron variant, Florida’s surgeon general on Monday indicated the state Department of Health would issue guidance to “unwind the testing psychology” of the federal government.

Dr. Joseph Ladapo was joined at news conference by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who announced the state will open new monoclonal antibody sites in the Orlando area, Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

“And we have the ability to add five to 10 more sites as the demand may be," DeSantis said. "But that is all contingent on the federal government.”

Ladapo recently wrote a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Beccara accusing the Biden administration of “actively preventing the effective distribution of monoclonal antibody treatments in the U.S.”

The Biden administration stopped distributing some forms of the COVID-19 treatment while it was laboratory tested against the omicron variant.

The governor said symptoms of the omicron variant being less severe should encourage younger Floridians to conserve treatment such as monoclonal antibody treatment, for seniors.

“It’s basically cold-like symptoms for a lot of those folks. That is not something you need to be coming in and getting monoclonals for. So, let’s look at our elderly population. Let’s look at folks that are immunocompromised or maybe things like diabetes that have shown to be a real serious risk factor,” DeSantis said.

Joseph Ladapo speaking at a podium
Gov. Ron DeSantis/Facebook
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Facebook
Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo acknowledged the rapid rise in cases but said omicron symptoms are generally less severe than previous variants.

A shift to 'high value testing'

Ladapo's comments took aim at mass testing after the Biden administration last month announced a plan to distribute 500 million at-home coronavirus tests to Americans.

“We need to unwind this … planning and living one’s life around testing,” Ladapo said during the news conference at Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale. “Without it, we’re going to be sort of stuck in the same cycle. So, it’s really time for people to be living, to make the decisions they want regarding vaccination, to enjoy the fact that many people have natural immunity. And to unwind this sort of preoccupation with only COVID as determining the boundaries and constraints and possibilities of life.”

DeSantis pointed to what he characterized as frivolous testing for COVID-19.

“What you are seeing is there are people going to the drug stores, buying all these tests. They’ll go multiple times per week to the sites and test, without symptoms. That is just going to contribute to some of the crunch that you are seeing,” DeSantis said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends anyone with COVID-19 symptoms get tested and anyone who has recently come in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID should get tested as well. The CDC also suggests using a self-test before participating in indoor activities with people outside your household.

Overwhelmed testing sites

Demand for tests has been overwhelming, with legions of people parading to stores and testing sites, waiting for hours and often leaving frustrated.

Jacksonville’s only city-funded, drive-thru testing site is limiting its capacity to 150 rapid tests a day —administered on a first-come, first-served basis. The operators announced the new limit after it had to temporarily shut down last week because of traffic issues.

The city's chief administrative officer, Brian Hughes, told a City Council committee Monday that the site is running out of city money for testing.

Tampa officials are opening a new drive-thru testing site near Ybor City after an existing site saw long waits and a few medical emergencies over the weekend.

Leon County is hosting “pop-up” testing sites this weekend while sites around the community and at CVS remain open.

Cases, hospitalizations increasing

The state health department published a report Friday that showed 298,455 new coronavirus cases were recorded in the week that ended Dec. 30. The total more than doubled from the previous week, when the health department reported 128,186 cases.

The number of Florida hospital patients with COVID-19 also has more than doubled during the past week, according to data posted Monday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The agency reported that 5,700 inpatients had COVID-19, up from 2,406 a week earlier.

Ladapo acknowledged the rapid rise in cases but said omicron symptoms are generally less severe than previous variants.

“Everyone knows omicron is spreading extremely rapidly,” Ladapo said. “The good news is that it appears to be less virulent, and the hospitalizations are not increasing nearly at the rate that the cases (are) … it’s not close. There’s a very big difference between the change in cases and the change in hospitalizations.”

DeSantis added that hospitals should be reporting how many patients are hospitalized because of COVID-19, versus how many are hospitalized for something else and test positive.

Emphasis on seniors, high-risk people

Ladapo said the upcoming shift in the approach to testing would put an emphasis on higher-risk people, though he did not give specifics of the plan. He suggested that the new guidance “doesn’t restrict access to testing, but reduces the use of low-value testing and prioritizes high-value testing.”

“So, if your grandmother gets a test, that’s a much more valuable test than the 8-year-old third-graders that Los Angeles County is sending in to get weekly testing. The first one is much more likely to change outcomes,” Ladapo said.

Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller also said the state’s “seniors-first strategy still exists,” reinforcing DeSantis’ plan to prioritize the elderly population in addressing the virus. Seniors and people with underlying health conditions are far more vulnerable to dying from COVID-19 than other people.

Information from WMFE's Abe Aboraya, WFSU's Roger McCarthy, WJCT's Claire Heddles and WUSF Public Media was used in this report.

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