Coronavirus: Florida doctor says more people need to be tested to reopen state safely

‘We need to test a lot more people,’ USF Health Dean Dr. Charles Lockwood says

Coronavirus: Florida doctor says more people need to be tested to reopen state safely
Coronavirus: Florida doctor says more people need to be tested to reopen state safely

During Gov. Ron DeSantis’ visit to Tampa General Hospital Monday doctors and hospital executives explained what needs to happen before Florida can reopen and continue to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including more testing to get a bigger picture of the virus.

Statewide Florida is approaching 360,000 tests since the beginning of March and about 9% of those have come back positive for the coronavirus, according to the Florida Department of Health dashboard. As of Monday, more than 32,100 people in Florida have been infected, including 1,088 deaths.

USF Health Dean Dr. Charles Lockwood said Florida has “excellent data on testing” down to the street level, showing who is getting sick and where, but added, “we need to test a lot more people.”

Currently, in the Tampa area about 500 to 1,000 people a day are being tested for the respiratory illness. Lockwood said that number needs to be closer to 2,250 people a day.

“If you want to be tested …. we are welcoming everyone to do that and that will give us critical data,” Lockwood said.

[INTERACTIVE MAP: Here’s where to get your drive-thru coronavirus test]

Tampa General Hospital medical officials said they were also beginning COVID-19 antibody testing Monday, testing 3,000 TGH staff.

If someone has the antibodies for the novel coronavirus, that means they’ve contracted the illness at some point and could potentially have some immunity.

Information about those carrying antibodies for the disease, “will allow us to really be able to contain this epidemic,” Lockwood said.

[RELATED: Why Florida’s governor wants expanded coronavirus antibody testing | TIMELINE: The spread of coronavirus in Florida]

With his safer-at-home order set to expire Thursday, the governor said he’d be taking key actions in the coming days as he reviews recommendations from a task force he convened to guide him in his decision-making. DeSantis said that reopening the state would be done methodically to prevent a resurgence of the outbreak.

The governor said there are pre-conditions to re-opening the state and those include expanding COVID-19 testing and antibody testing.

“We have to test a lot more,” DeSantis said. “As least 150 per day, per 100,000 population.”

Medical officials also stressed people who need medical care, especially those experiencing chest pain and serious symptoms, should not be afraid to come to the hospital for care.

“I was out with my wife yesterday, we took our boat out, and I was looking at some of these people on other boats - there were like 20 people on a boat," Lockwood said. "That is much, much, much, much more dangerous than coming to your hospital. Really this is the safest spot you can be.”

Lockwood described people are taking unnecessary risks and that going to the hospital is not one of them.

“If you are having chest pains, if you are having symptoms of a stroke, weakness, if you can’t speak, come immediately to the emergency room," Lockwood said. "This is a remarkably safe environment.”

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About the Author:

Emilee is a digital journalist for News 6 and, where she writes about space and Central Florida news. Emilee hosts the Edward R. Murrow Award-winning podcast Space Curious. Previously, she was a space writer and web editor for the Orlando Sentinel and a web producer at the Naples Daily News.