By John Haughey | The Center Square
Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida will expand COVID-19 testing capabilities beyond diagnosing whether someone has the disease to determining whether they have antibodies and how widespread asymptomatic people are.
“The problem is if you’re negative, it doesn’t mean you can’t get it the next day. It’s really a fleeting thing to have a negative test,” DeSantis said Monday at The Villages. “If you do an antibody test and have the antibodies, well that’s something very significant in terms of information.”
Antibody testing, which indicates whether someone had the virus, is available in Florida only for medical professionals and first responders at drive-thru test sites across the state.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibodies may provide protection from recontracting the virus and help create “herd immunity” to COVID-19.
CDC and the University of Miami have conducted antibody testing in south Florida, with results suggesting the virus is 11 to 16 times more prevalent than estimated.
Florida reported 6,336 new confirmed cases Monday, raising the total to 206,447 since March 1. Florida set a U.S. record Saturday for most cases in a single day with 11,458.
The Florida Department of Health (DOH) COVID-19 dashboard reports 3,880 people have died in the state from COVID-19. Over the past week, an average of 43 people a day have died, up from 30 a day in mid-May but below the 60-a-day average in late April.
DeSantis has attributed the spike partially to an increase in testing. About 45,000 tests are being conducted daily statewide, according to DOH, double May’s testing, which was double April’s testing.
With many reopened businesses conducting tests on its workers, DeSantis said the statewide median age for those testing positive for COVID-19 has dropped from the mid-50s to the mid-30s.
People under 35 years old are less likely to be seriously sickened from COVID-19 than those over 65 years old, but they can spread the disease. DeSantis said Monday the most common age of those testing positive the past few weeks is 21 years old.
“From a clinical perspective, 1,000 cases under the age of 30 is going to be less significant than 50 cases in a long-term care facility,” he said.
According to DOH, however, the percent of positive tests out of tests conducted is increasing. For the week that ended Saturday, the state’s positivity rate was 18 percent, four times higher than mid-May’s weekly positivity rate of 4.6 percent.
“I want us to be in May or in early June, when we were at 3 or 4 percent,” DeSantis said Monday. “We want to get back to that for sure.”
Another alarming trend is hospitalizations are up 40 percent statewide over the past two weeks, with Miami-Dade and Pinellas county hospitals near capacity, the American Health Care Association (AHCA) warned.
Because of a hospital bed shortage, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Monday ordered restaurants be limited to takeout and delivery services, and he closed gyms, banquet halls and vacation rentals, starting Wednesday.
Since mid-May, the county’s daily COVID-19 cases have ballooned from 300 to more than 2,000. On Monday, more than 1,600 COVID-19 patients, including 168 on ventilators, were hospitalized. That number has doubled in two weeks.
Gimenez attributed the accelerating outbreak to young adults crowding restaurants and bars without masks or practicing social distancing.
“We can tamp down the spread if everyone follows the rules, wears masks and stays at least 6 feet apart,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, the incumbent Democrat that Republican Gimenez is running against in their November congressional election, tweeted Monday that Gimenez reopened too soon “just to please” DeSantis and President Donald Trump.
“This is failed leadership,” she said. “Our community deserves better.”