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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state's top emergency management official confirmed Thursday that 800,000 to 1 million Covid test kits in the state's stockpile recently expired without being used.
At a Thursday news conference, Kevin Guthrie, the director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management, told reporters when asked about the state's stockpile: "We had between 800,000 and a million test kits, Abbott rapid test kits, in our warehouse that did expire."
Guthrie said the reason the tests expired in the last week of December was because there was inadequate demand for their use. State officials had already requested a three-month extension on the tests' use from federal officials when they were last set to expire in September, only for the tests to again sit unused. Florida officials are again seeking a three-month extension on the tests, but have yet to receive an answer on their continued viability from federal officials and the manufacturer, Guthrie said.
"The thing is, if they're not authorized, if they're not accurate, we don't want to send inaccurate tests," DeSantis said at the Thursday news conference, at which he also announced the state will be providing up to 1 million rapid tests to nursing home and assisted living facility residents.
DeSantis said tests from the stockpile were being sent out to localities as requested and that demand for them slowed beginning in September, when the Covid case surge attributed to the delta variant began to cool down.
"There was no withholding of anything," DeSantis told reporters.
The issue of the expiring tests was first raised by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic candidate for governor. In a Dec. 30 statement, she said: "It’s come to my attention that Governor DeSantis’ Department of Health has a significant number of COVID-19 tests stockpiled that are set to expire imminently."
“Given the Governor’s lack of transparency throughout this pandemic, there’s no known public information about these tests or how soon they expire," she said. "With omicron infections exploding throughout Florida, I beg of him to release these tests immediately to local counties and cities, and to stand up state-sponsored testing sites. To let these tests expire while Floridians anxiously wait for hours in testing lines is negligent at best, and heartless at worst.”
Responding to DeSantis' remarks on Thursday, Fried tweeted: "He just admitted that they have a stockpile of '800,000 to a million' expired COVID-19 tests they never sent out."
"They expired (after being extended) between 12/26-30/21)," she added. "Just like I told you."
Christina Pushaw, a DeSantis spokesperson, told NBC News that "the governor’s office is not the procurer or custodian" of Covid tests.
"This easily debunked misconception is based solely on the claims of a political opponent who is attempting to generate media coverage for her struggling gubernatorial campaign," she said in a statement. "The Division of Emergency Management and Department of Health have handled procurement and logistics of COVID testing, and both DEM and DOH have already addressed this."
She said demand plummeted in the state during the fall months and "state agencies obviously cannot give out expired tests to Floridians."
Yet last week, Floridians reportedly waited up to three hours to get a Covid test as cases and potential exposures spiked due to the more infectious omicron variant. On Dec. 21, Miami-Dade County’s Mayor Daniella Levine Cava wrote to Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo asking “that all possible tests be directed to Miami-Dade County to meet the growing demand for testing in our community," WPLG Local 10 reported.
Speaking with Fox News on Thursday, DeSantis said that "not every single person needs to be going out always getting tested," particularly young, healthy people who aren't at high-risk with the disease.
"You have healthy people," he added. "That's not a good strategy. But what is a good strategy is to have these at-home tests available for our vulnerable population."