Florida surgeon general's call to stop relying on COVID-19 testing is a 'me first, forget everybody else' approach, health expert says

·4 min read
A long line of cars is seen at the entrance to a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site in Barnett Park in Orlando.
A long line of cars at the entrance to a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site in Barnett Park in Orlando, Florida.Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
  • Florida is switching its approach to COVID-19 testing, focusing on "high-value" patients.

  • A public-health expert said it's consistent with a "me first, forget everybody else" approach.

  • She told Insider the state should be ramping up testing rather than cutting back.

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo's call for people to stop relying on COVID-19 testing is "consistent with an anti-public-health approach to the pandemic" and a "me first, forget everybody else" way of thinking, a public-health expert told Insider.

At a COVID-19 briefing on Monday, Ladapo and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the state will be shifting focus to testing "high-value" patients as cases surge due to the Omicron variant.

"High-value testing is testing that is likely to change outcomes," Ladapo said.

He said officials are working to unwind the testing psychology that has been caused by federal leadership.

"We need to unwind this testing and living one's life around testing," Ladapo said. "Without it, we're going to be 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."

Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious-disease specialist and epidemiologist at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, told Insider she sees the move as a focus on the individual rather than the community.

"Testing psychology is really about caring and looking out for others," she said. "Basically what they're saying is, 'You don't need to worry about other people. You can just focus on yourself as the individual. You can make your individual decisions about whether you get infected or not, whether you get vaccinated or not, and you take responsibility for your individual decisions.'"

She added that it implies that the state does not want to isolate or quarantine people to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

"That really is not going to be part of the policy here if they are going to focus on individuals," she said.

To get to the other side of the pandemic, Gounder said that actions in the interest of the community are actually in the individual interest.

She said a lack of understanding of this mindset is contributing to attitudes that work to treat COVID-19 as an individual, rather than community, problem.

"I think it's corrosive in terms of thinking about public-health problems which are community-level problems, population-level problems," she said. "Trying to reduce those to individual issues, which they are not, and that really sets you up for failure. At least if you care about preventing disease and death."

She added that in states where "individual trumps community," you could see the same pattern of shifting testing techniques.

Thomas Unnasch, a distinguished Professor in the College of Public Health at the University of South Florida, said he believes this new testing model could only be valuable for the short term.

"In the long term it is turning facts and reality on its head," Unnasch told Insider.

While so few tests are available, Unnasch said public health officials could choose to save tests for those who are at a higher risk. That way, healthcare workers can assess if they're positive for COVID-19 and treat them accordingly.

"We need to ration tests for the next several weeks, but once more tests are more available, we will need as many tests as possible," Unnasch said. "Tests need to be widely available for many reasons."

But Unnasch said more testing is the "only way we are going to beat this variant."

DeSantis' focus on more monoclonal antibodies as a treatment is also a mistake, he said.

The antibodies are much less effective against the Omicron variant, Unnasch said.

Until we have a viable treatment against the new variant, testing and isolating is the only way to make it to the other side of this wave, Unnasch explained. Even so, when an appropriate treatment hits the market, patients will still need a positive test to qualify for them.

For a state like Florida, where testing lines are getting unmanageable, Gounder said the right move is to ramp up testing rather than cut back, as this plan proposes.

"Clearly there is demand for testing that's not being met," she said. "Putting our heads in the sand and pretending this isn't happening isn't going to help us."

Read the original article on Business Insider

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