As The Tampa Bay Times reports, DeSantis started out by bragging on the state’s testing capability which, he said, “exceeds the demand.” At around 18 people out of 1,000 tested, Florida’s rate of testing is almost exactly at the national average; a national average that is universally acknowledged as wildly inadequate. In fact, on a per capita basis, Florida ranks 22nd then it comes to testing for COVID-19. There are states that are far worse (looking at you, Texas), but Florida, where 9% of all tests remain positive, has by no means conducted enough tests to define the extent of the outbreak there. It’s also not conducted a vigorous program of isolation and case tracing on the positive results that have have been uncovered.
As for DeSantis’ claims that there are more tests than there is demand for tests, healthcare workers in his state disagree. Hospitals are still limited in the tests they can conduct by a shortage of tests and reagents. That’s still restricting the ability to test those potentially infected. An official at one hospital reported that they are still in a position where “We can order 1,000 [testing] kits. Sometimes we get 50.”
There is one other group that is desperate for tests in a state where 20% of the population is over 65 and more than a million residents are over 80: nursing homes and elder-care facilities. Most such facilities still don’t have access to the tests, so the tens of thousands of residents there haven’t seen so much as a swab. Nursing home workers and health officials are calling for more testing as the only possible means of preparing the state for reopening. The nursing home representative on DeSantis’ own reopening task force said that, “Expanding testing is exactly the right way to go and the only way we get ahead of this.”
Meanwhile, the state’s own experts on epidemiology are calling for at least a doubling of the current rate of testing, infectious disease experts are warning that reopening could lead to being “overwhelmed in terms of the numbers of cases,” and it’s been made clear to DeSantis that the state is nowhere near the point where it can move from general social distancing, to isolating just those who are known to be ill. To get there requires a large increase in testing and a coordinated effort to put those test results to use.
But keen to reopen Florida starting Wednesday (literally, he started yesterday), DeSantis isn’t waiting for more testing. In fact, he’s not even seeking more testing. After all, what comes with more testing but more positive results, which is the last thing DeSantis wants. Just like Donald Trump, DeSantis is more interested in getting the dollars moving than he in protecting lives. Trump has continued to do what he’s done from the beginning, promise more tests than he delivers. DeSantis isn’t promising anything at all.
The truth is that Florida hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities cannot get the tests they need. The truth is that Florida doesn’t actually know how many cases of COVID-19 it has, or how many people have died from the disease. The truth is that DeSantis doesn’t care.