Florida to begin mass antibody testing next week

The Center Square – Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that Florida will ramp up serological testing next week to see whether people have antibodies that indicate they were infected with the coronavirus and recovered without demonstrating symptoms.

The governor said Florida will disperse 200,000 antibody tests to hospitals and 12 drive-up testing sites across the state. It is uncertain whether those with antibodies are immune to subsequent coronavirus infections, but typically those exposed to viruses exhibit less vulnerability.

“Antibody testing is finally here,” DeSantis said. “We’re going to get many more coming down the line, but those 200,000, I think, will be a really good start.”

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Speaking at the launch of a drive-thru testing site in Sarasota, which eventually will offer up to 750 tests a day, the governor reiterated his pledge to dramatically increase diagnostic testing statewide as a key component of his reopening plan.

Phase one of the reopening plan kicked off Monday.

The state’s Department of Health (DOH) dashboard reported Tuesday afternoon that 37,439 people in the state had tested COVID-19 positive, with 6,330 hospitalized and 1,471 dead from the disease.

The numbers reflect an increase of 4,246 new cases, 911 additional hospitalizations and 253 more deaths in the past six days.

Over the first four days of May, new cases have demonstrated a roller-coaster pattern, with 589 new COVID-19 cases reported Monday, 778 on Sunday, 637 on Saturday and 719 on Friday.

DeSantis’ plans to gear up to at least 30,000 tests a day this week, but the state is averaging less than half that over the past 10 days.

As of Tuesday afternoon, DOH reported 467,553 had been tested statewide – an increase of 148,726 since a single-day high of 21,298 people were tested April 23.

The 8 percent positivity rate is a key indicator in the governor’s reopening plan, which unlike President Donald Trump administration’s Opening Up America Again plan, gauges progress by declining positivity percentage of tests rather than declining case counts.

DeSantis said the COVID-19 emergency has underscored the need for American-made personal protective equipment and other gear necessary to combat the pandemic — and those that may emerge in the future.

“All this stuff should be made in the United States and not in China,” he said. “We don’t want our health destiny resting in the hands of a communist dictatorship.”

Under DeSantis’ phase one, restaurants with outdoor seating can reopen as long as 6 feet between tables is maintained and inside seating is limited to 25 percent capacity.

The 32-page Re-Opening Florida Task Force report recommended 50 percent dining capacity in phase one and 75 percent in phase two.

DeSantis said he is looking at expanding interior dining capacities soon, perhaps as part of phase two or as a standalone measure.

“You have a responsibility to get to, yes,” DeSantis said. “I understand those restaurant folks not doing takeout. It is tough to say I’m just going to do 25 percent, especially if you don’t have any outdoor seating.”

His stay-at-home order from April 1 allowed restaurants to deliver alcoholic beverages, and that is something that may stay in vogue even after the COVID-19 emergency is over.

“I think that’s been pretty popular,” DeSantis said. “We’re probably going to keep that going. Maybe we’ll have the Legislature change the law on that.”

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