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COVID-19 in Florida: tests too slow and insufficient follow-up

(Miami) Tests too slow, insufficient contact tracing: two of the main tools to fight the COVID pandemic – 11 are lacking in Florida, one of the US states currently hardest hit by the virus.

Leila MACOR

France Media Agency

It took 11 days for Gemma García, a Spanish journalist, to receive the positive result of his screening test carried out in late June in Miami.

A delay significantly longer than the recommendations of the American Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC).

During this time, she “did not isolate herself at 100%”, she confides to AFP , while ensuring to have “always respected social distancing”.

“When I received the positive result, I obviously placed myself in quarantine and I contacted all the people with whom I had been in contact”, says the journalist of 53 years.

All were tested negative.

In the state of Florida, which is among the current epicenters of the pandemic in the United States, along with Texas and California, one inhabitant in 29 was infected with the new coronavirus. And more than 6000 died from it.

The results of the screening tests however take between five and ten days to be known.

“The situation is poorly managed”, regretted Thursday during a press conference the D r Alberto Domínguez-Bali, from a Miami hospital.

The laboratories involved?

Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis pointed out laboratory responsibility two weeks ago and announced that those who weren't quick enough would no longer receive samples to analyze.

“It doesn't really help when someone has to wait ten days for a result,” he said at the time, acknowledging the problem.

The two main laboratories in the country, Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, have since announced that the United States Medicines Agency (FDA) had authorized them to perform group tests in order to save time.

They analyze several samples at the same time, which are only re-analyzed individually when a test group is positive.

Quest let know on 20 July on its website that it was necessary to wait for the results of the tests between seven days and two weeks for non-urgent cases, compared to two days for priority patients.

A spokesperson for LabCorp told AFP that she could now “deliver results within two to three days from receipt of samples”, and less for hospitalized patients.

COVID screening centers – 11 are also accused of sometimes delaying sending samples to laboratories.

“Not ready”

The slowness of the tests in Florida makes it ineffective there to follow up the contacts of infected people, a tool that has been proven in other countries to contain the pandemic.

Neither journalist Gemma García nor the fifteen people she invited to be tested after having tested positive were contacted by a “tracing” agent.

Florida health authorities claim to employ 1600 of them. A figure far below, in view of its 20 million inhabitants, recommendations in this area.

Governor DeSantis, a close friend of President Donald Trump, has seen his popularity decline in recent weeks due to his handling of the pandemic.

After having reopened in mid-May certain businesses in his State, which is very dependent on tourism, he notably refused to make wearing a mask compulsory.

Visitors flocked to the sandy beaches in May and June, when the virus seemed to be under control. But many hospitals are now short of beds, some intensive care units are overwhelmed and the tourism industry is struggling.

The Florida authorities were “just not ready”, denounced the 07 July Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber on MSNBC.

“If we cannot locate positive people and those with whom they have been in contact, we ultimately allow the virus to spread freely,” he said.

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