Gov Ron DeSantis on Thursday said the state will begin testing asymptomatic people for COVID-19 at sites in Jacksonville, Miami and Orlando to try to better understand how to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
DeSantis said the state will take over operations Friday at the testing centers, which had been supported by the federal government, and begin expanding testing. The Florida Department of Health will develop guidelines, DeSantis said, but the goal is to test asymptomatic residents who have had repeated encounters with infected people.
“We may want to be finding some of those people and testing them,” DeSantis said.
Florida will be able to offer 800 tests a day, a substantial increase from the 250 tests that were available when the federal government supported the sites. Also, the sites have only provided tests to health-care workers, first responders and symptomatic people 65 and older.
The coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, has rapidly spread across the state and nation, in part spurred by a lack of access to testing. As of Thursday morning, Florida had 16,364 positive cases, with 354 deaths. As cases have mounted, there is growing sentiment that the virus is being spread by asymptomatic people.
A new federal report on a COVID-19 cluster outside Chicago addressed how a funeral and birthday party led to the virus spreading. An initial patient spread the infection to 10 other people, despite having no household contacts and experiencing only mild respiratory symptoms that required no medical attention. The initial patient was tested for the virus only “as part of this epidemiologíc investigation,” the report indicated. Ultimately, 16 people, ages 5 to 86, were infected, and three of the patients, all over age 60, died.
Florida will conduct tests at the three sites as it braces for what is expected to be a surge in hospitalizations. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects that Florida COVID-19 hospitalizations will peak April 21. The model indicates that Florida will require 1,323 more ventilators than currently available.