Governor ushers in era of rapid test kits

Gov. Ron DeSantis discusses his plans for rapid COVID-19 test kits at the Center for Advanced Healthcare at Brownwood. The state will target senior living communities such as The Villages, along with schools.

Florida, which already provides more COVID-19 testing per capita than any other state, will now blanket high-risk communities with rapid testing kits, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced from The Villages on Tuesday. Speaking from the Center for Advanced Healthcare at Brownwood, DeSantis said the state would target senior living communities like The Villages and send 60,000 kits to schools. “We really believe focusing protections on people who are most vulnerable are our top priorities,” DeSantis said.  The BiNax NOW test from Abbott Laboratories uses a nasal swab to determine within 15 minutes if someone is infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The kits eradicate lab costs and prevent healthy people from needlessly isolating, DeSantis said. Traditional tests sent to a lab cost about $100 each, while the rapid tests are free from the federal government.

“Healthy quarantining is not something we want done on a large scale,” he said. “And we want to keep as many students in the classroom as we can.”

Florida took delivery of 400,000 of the kits this week, he said, 25% of which will be sent to long-term care facilities.

Some also are headed to elections supervisors to ensure safe voting environments.

Flanked by officials from The Villages Health and state agencies, DeSantis noted the COVID-19 survival rate for those under age 50 is 99.9% and  is 94.5% for those older than 70.

He continued his ongoing praise for how The Villages has navigated the outbreak, balancing protections for residents with a slow and careful return to safe activities.

“The Villages has shown you have to have a sustainable approach to this,” DeSantis said. “You just can’t say that people can never leave their house. That is not viable, that causes a lot of problems as well.”

He praised local officials for proceeding cautiously, especially on indoor events. He said he believes the test kits will help inform further decisions.

The Villages Health will offer rapid testing in the near future, said Dr. Jeff Lowenkron, chief medical officer.

He said more information should be available in the coming days about how to register for an appointment time.

Lowenkron joined Dr. Robert Reilly, The Villages Health’s medical director; Rita Smith with the Florida Department of Health; Jared Moskowitz, director of the Division of Emergency Management, and others as a demonstration on how the test is administered was performed.

“It’s a very simple test to administer,” DeSantis said.

A sample is swabbed from each nostril, then the swabs are pressed and closed into a small packet containing a test chemical that processes the result in under 15 minutes.

The governor said Florida will receive around 400,000 testing kits per week for a total of 6.4 million testing kits.

“The tests aren’t the end all, be all,” he said. “Doing the basic mitigation, the sanitation, staying home if you’re sick is still important. But it’s an additional tool. It affirmatively allows seniors to be able to live and have the confidence to do that.”

DeSantis said those who want access to testing that may not be readily available can email rapidtestforseniors@em.myflorida.com

Managing Editor Curt Hills can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5287, or curt.hills@thevillagesmedia.com.