Experts express concern over Florida surgeon general's approach to COVID-19 testing

With long lines and high demand at COVID-19 testing sites, Florida's surgeon general is calling for a change in the way the state is testing for COVID-19. But not all experts agree with the approach.

Hillsborough County's testing site at Progress Village, some people have had to wait over an hour and there have been long lines at testing sites across Tampa Bay.

With that in mind, Florida's surgeon general said he believes the state needs to change to a "high-value testing" approach.

During a news conference with Governor DeSantis Thursday morning, Dr. Joseph Ladapo said his new guidance is to focus on testing only people who are symptomatic, going against current CDC guidance which calls for testing a wider range of the population, based on various factors. 

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That includes testing anyone who has come in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19, even if they have no symptoms, as well as those whose employers or schools require them to be tested.

"Testing people for a respiratory virus when they have no symptoms on a massive scale is abnormal. What we did before the pandemic is normal. What we did before this pandemic is what was normal which is if you have symptoms, we'll test you and if you test positive, we'll treat you," Ladapo said. 

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Dr. Thomas Unnasch at USF Health -- who studies COVID's impact on Florida -- said the state's new testing approach would only work in a world where there's an effective treatment for the disease.

Right now, monoclonal antibody treatments are available in Florida, but data shows they don't always work, especially against the omicron variant.

"If you can't promise an effective treatment to people, what is the best way of protecting that at-risk population? Not having them get exposed in the first place, and the way that you can do that with testing is to most effectively try and reduce the amount of spread of the virus in the population," Unnasch said.

Meanwhile, the governor announced he is sending 1 million at-home testing kits to nursing homes and long-term care facilities. The state's emergency management director says the state had been stockpiling these kits as COVID cases subsided last year.

However, many of them are now expired.

The state is asking the federal government for an extension on those testing kits and is currently waiting for a response.