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Governor OKs Big Box Pharmacists to Conduct Diagnostic Coronavirus Testing

In the background Florida's new mobile testing lab. Image: WFTS-TV

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday he will allow CVS, Walgreens and Walmart pharmacists to conduct diagnostic COVID-19 tests as part of his effort to ramp up testing as a key component of the state’s reopening plan.

“I relaxed the restrictions on licensed pharmacists. They are now allowed to administer COVID-19 tests,” he said. “This just makes it easier for people because these (pharmacies) are things that may be in the neighborhood.”

The retailers will begin testing at a handful of sites and then expand statewide, the governor said, noting Walgreens will offer drive-thru testing services in Miami and Opa-Locka.

“They have seven drive-thru sites that they’re going to be setting up, and they have two of those in Miami-Dade County,” DeSantis said, adding he also is pondering proposals to allow retailers to sell home-testing kits .

The governor made the announcement at a drive-thru/walk-up testing site at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, where he introduced the state’s new mobile testing lab. It will be deployed to nursing homes and assisted living facilities to conduct new “rapid” tests for the virus.

The mobile lab, a retrofitted recreational vehicle, will be staffed by 10 National Guardsmen and 10 nurses, DeSantis said, with test results available within 45 minutes.

“This is going to be around the clock,” he said. “We’re going to be processing 500 tests a day just on the mobile testing site, and 3,500 a week.”

DeSantis said the 12 drive-thru/walk-up sites across the state, including the one at Hard Rock Stadium, also will be conducting antibody testing. The state also will test blood donations for the coronavirus antibodies, the governor said.

“That’s a way to get a pretty powerful snapshot of data about how widespread antibodies are,” he said. “Basically, people that have had the disease, their body will generate antibodies to fight it, and we can then test to see whether you have the antibodies.”

It is uncertain whether those with antibodies are “immune” to subsequent COVID-19 infections, but typically those exposed to viruses exhibit less vulnerability.

“We do believe, I think most people believe, that it will confer a certain level of immunity,” DeSantis said. “They’re disagreeing about maybe how long. But I think that that’s probably the safest assumption.”

The FDA has approved an antibody tests that produces results within 15 minutes, he said.

“We have 200,000, and we have more on the way,” he added.

Phase one of the state’s reopening plan kicked off Monday. To get to phase two, the governor wants the state to conduct at least 30,000 tests a day.

The state’s Department of Health (DOH) dashboard reported Wednesday evening that 38,002 people in the state had tested COVID-19 positive, with 6,557 hospitalizations and 1,539 deaths from the disease.

The numbers reflect an increase of 5,372 new cases, 1,238 additional hospitalizations and 321 deaths in the past seven days.

Over the first five days of May, new cases demonstrated a roller-coaster pattern with 563 new COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday, 589 on Monday, 778 on Sunday, 637 on Saturday and 719 on Friday.

As of Wednesday evening, DOH reported 482,005 had been tested statewide with 14,452 tested Tuesday, an increase of 163,178 since a single-day high of 21,298 people were tested April 23.

The 7.9 percent positivity ratio is a key indicator in the governor’s reopening plan, which, unlike the President Donald Trump administration’s Opening Up America Again plan, gauges progress by declining positivity percentage of tests rather than declining case counts.

This piece appeared in the The Center Square and was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

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