(The Center Square) – Florida seniors who live in assisted living facilities and nursing homes will receive one million rapid COVID-19 tests in an effort by the state to prioritize safety for those at high risk to serious illness.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state was allocating resources to help seniors at a Wednesday visit to the Rehabilitation Center of the Palm Beaches, where he met with leaders in the senior care industry.
The announcement is another of his administration’s “data-driven Seniors First approach,” including other initiatives previously launched: Seniors First for vaccines, Seniors First for tests, and Seniors First for early treatments.
“We’re going to start with our long-term care facilities for our elderly, and then we’re going to try to focus it on the senior population, because, you know, I don’t want somebody that’s 75 to have to wait in line for an hour, especially when a lot of the people that are testing are more low-risk people. So we are going to do that because the federal government hasn’t come through with that,” Gov. DeSantis said, according to WJXT-4.
On Dec. 21, President Joe Biden announced that the federal government was buying 500 million COVID-19 rapid test kits to distribute to the public for free to use at home. On Dec. 24, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the departments of Defense and Health and Human Services were “executing on what's called an ‘accelerated emergency contract,'” to procure the tests.
A new government website will be made available for members of the public to request a kit but won’t be live until after the first batch of kits are delivered.
“We’re obviously not going to put the website up until there are tests available,” Psaki said.
DeSantis criticized the Biden administration for taking so long to make rapid tests available for home use especially since funding for them was allocated nine months ago through the $1.9 trillion relief bill Biden signed into law in March.
Worse still, DeSantis argues, “the public health bureaucrats in Washington continue to encourage low-value testing of healthy, asymptomatic young people to essentially conduct surveillance testing not contingent on exposure, driving up demand for tests despite the Biden Administration’s failure to secure adequate supply.”
The announcement came after Walmart and Kroger both recently announced they were raising the prices of the at-home test kits after an agreement with the White House to sell them at a reduced price expired, NBC News reported.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat running against DeSantis for governor, criticized his announcement. She also accused the state health department of stockpiling COVID-19 tests, which the department denies, according to WPLG-10.
The state health department “works with partners to ensure providers statewide are informed on COVID-19 treatment options, but also have access to supply outside of state sites – specifically for those who are at high-risk for severe illness,” Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, M.D., Ph.D. said. “That’s the same mindset we now need to have about testing.
“Those that are at high-risk for COVID-19, such as seniors and immunocompromised individuals, should be prioritized for testing and treatment,” he added. “We remain confident that the federal government will proceed with our request for 30,000 doses of lifesaving treatment.”
Procuring additional tests, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie, added, “is another example of how the Division is prepared and built for speed. With our partners at the Florida Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration, we will continue to lead the way in responding to COVID-19.”
Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller says there’s “an entire structure in place to make sure that Florida’s seniors and those who care for them have the resources and the information they need. At Governor DeSantis’ direction, we have developed Strike Teams that can rapidly administer vaccines and monoclonals to residents of long-term care facilities. Caregivers in our long-term care facilities have done an incredible job over the past nearly two years.”
The Department of Health also issued updated testing guidance prioritizing testing among seniors and those with certain medical conditions and symptoms who are at an increased risk for severe illness.
There are roughly 700 nursing homes and 3,000 assisted living facilities in Florida, a state known for its large senior and retirement community.
Florida has the second-greatest number of senior residents in the U.S. after California. Roughly 8.6 million Floridians are age 50 and older. Roughly four in 10 Floridians are over age 50, the fifth-highest percentage in the country.