SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – The federal government is sending an additional 6.4 million rapid COVID-19 tests to Florida.
Admiral Brett P. Giroir, M.D., assistant secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and lead for COVID-19 diagnostic testing effort, announced the new round of tests Tuesday afternoon.
HHS purchased the antigen tests from Abbott Labs for $5 per test but the tests will be administered in Florida free of charge.
“It is the swab but not deep swab that makes people uncomfortable,” Giroir said.
Only the inside of the tip of a patient’s nose is swabbed. The sample is then placed inside the testing packet to see if it reacts with proteins generated by the body in response to Coronavirus.
Within about 15 minutes, the packet reveals the results. Each packet has a bar code so results are sent to a patient’s phone.
Giroir said one-third of the 6.4 million tests will go to Florida nursing homes, schools, first responders and historically black colleges. The other two-thirds will be sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis' office for distribution.
Florida has already received 2.2 million of the rapid tests. DeSantis said Tuesday afternoon during a stop in Seminole County he’s already distributed hundreds of thousands of those tests, including to thousands of nursing homes.
“We’ve sent them out to all those facilities and again can be used for the same thing: screening staff, but also can be used for screening visitors,” DeSantis said. “Well now that you have rapid testing, they have the ability, if they want to test the residents, they’re able to test the residents the staff and all the visitors who come in. And so we believe that it’s a tool to help keep people safe, but it’s also a tool to help expand the horizons, so that people can live as full a life as possible.”
DeSantis said schools can use the tests to prevent outbreaks.
“We have sent some for schools for if somebody is sick and you send them home, if you can do a rapid test and they’re negative well then they don’t have to isolate for 14 days. And then also we’re seeing some schools, anybody that was in quote ‘contact,’ healthy kids are being asked to isolate for two weeks, I think that’s a mistake. Now that you have a rapid test, okay, test them. If they’re negative and they need to be back in school.”
DeSantis said first responders can use the tests to keep entire shifts and even entire departments healthy.
“What we’re going to do is we’re going to give them [the new rapid tests] to the first responder so as we get more shipments in,” DeSantis said. “We send them to our sheriff’s departments, we’ll send them to our police departments our fire departments. And again, not that they need to be testing every day, but if you have a situation you can get a quick 15-minute result. And that’s really a force multiplier for them because if you can’t get the result for two or three days, what are you going to do, you just have people isolate?”
DeSantis said the new antigen test is less sensitive than a PCR test.
“The 15-minute rapid tests are a little bit different than the PCR test, the PCR tests are super, super sensitive,” DeSantis said. “So, if you’re infected, three weeks ago, you could still test positive on a PCR, you’re not contagious, but you can still test positive. The antigen rapid test, you’re probably not going to test positive unless you have an active infection. I think that’s a good thing because you don’t want to isolate people who aren’t infectious. If you’re not infectious then you need to be doing, live your life.”
But the new test comes with a higher false-positivity rate.
“So it’s about 1.5% of the test will be people who are not actually infected or have never been infected and then they will come back positive,” DeSantis said. “So there are some folks who they do get a positive antigen or having it confirmed with PCR, and that’s fine. So none of these tools are perfect, but I feel that having a 15 minute option, you know, can be good.”