Florida health officials release new COVID-19 testing guidelines

State sending at-home coronavirus tests to nursing homes, senior communities
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks as Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo listens in West Palm Beach, Jan. 6, 2022
Posted at 3:06 PM, Jan 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-06 23:22:13-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis visited West Palm Beach on Thursday to announce his new plan to hopefully alleviate some of the overwhelming demand for COVID-19 tests across the state.

DeSantis said the state is prioritizing "high-value testing," aiming to focus on certain groups who are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Those groups include the following, according to the Florida Department of Health:

  • Older adults, especially those age 65 and older
  • Individuals with certain medical conditions, including cancer, diabetes, chronic lung diseases, heart conditions, and a weakened immune system (immunocompromised)
  • Pregnant or recently pregnant individuals

DeSantis said the state's current crunch on COVID-19 testing — which has resulted in hours-long wait times at sites — are to blame, in part, on Floridians who he claimed don't necessarily need to get screened for COVID-19.

"If you're just somebody that has no symptoms or you're not at-risk for anything significant, to be going out and testing a lot is not something that's going to be considered high-value," DeSantis said.

To lessen the strain on testing sites around the state, the Florida Department of Health Thursday released the following guidelines and recommendations for when residents should get tested for COVID-19.

Individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 who are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should get tested soon after symptom onset and should seek early monoclonal antibody or antiviral drug treatment and seek other medical treatment as necessary.

Individuals with symptoms who are not at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should consider getting tested for COVID-19 soon after symptom onset and seek medical treatment only as necessary.

For individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19 but have no symptoms, "COVID-19 testing is unlikely to have any clinical benefits," the Florida Department of Health said.

DeSantis said Thursday that Florida will send out 1 million at-home COVID-19 tests with a priority to nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and senior-heavy communities.

The governor said asymptomatic employees shouldn't need a negative test to return to work.

"In workforces, to force someone to be testing before they go to work is not going to really be high-value testing," said DeSantis. "The danger that you have is what impacts that could have on society."

DeSantis pointed to Florida's policy on testing students who have been to COVID-19 as proof of the policy's effectiveness. An emergency rule issued by Florida's Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo said Florida students who are exposed to COVID-19 don't have to quarantine from school if they're not showing symptoms of the virus.

"At the end of the day, we need to make sure healthy people, whether it's healthy kids or healthy workers are able to participate in society," DeSantis said.

DeSantis' new testing guidelines are in direct opposition to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said people without symptoms can spread the omicron variant and that testing is critical in preventing more infections.

"For the general public and particular working-age and school-age populations, the symptoms-based approach is the way to go," DeSantis said.

This is advice the governor takes himself. When asked if he had tested positive for COVID-19, he responded that he hasn't had any symptoms so he hasn't been tested in some time.