MIAMI: Florida has emerged as a major new epicentre of the US coronavirus battle but the state is witnessing mismanagement in testing and contact tracing.
Health officials have claimed that when a person is tested they need to get the results in 48 hours or less, so if they are in fact positive they can self-isolate right away and avoid infecting others. However, it is taking up to 10 days for results to return.
The lag between testing and results coming back is one of the reasons Florida is a red hot spot in the pandemic, along with Texas and California, in the country hardest hit by the virus sweeping the globe.
One of every 50 people in Florida is infected with the virus which has has killed more than 6,000 people in the state. New cases are around 10,000 a day, while the latest single daily death toll was a record 186.
Two weeks ago Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, a firm ally of President Donald Trump and of reopening the economy despite the warnings of health experts, blamed the labs doing the testing.
DeSantis threatened to stop sending work to those labs that take a long time to return the results. “You have somebody going through one of the sites, and then they get a result back 10 days later. That is not really going to be very helpful,” he said.
Since then two big lab companies, Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, said the government has allowed them to do what are called pool tests to save time.
This means several samples are combined and examined altogether. If that group tests positive, then the individual parts that compose it are tested one by one. The testing-result lag time also makes contact tracing inefficient and unmanageable.
The Florida health department says on its web site it has 1,600 employees doing tracing. Experts say it would need at least 6,300 for this state of 21 million people.
The approval rating for governor DeSantis has fallen over the past month over his handling of the crisis. In May he bragged that he had managed to control the pandemic, in a speech during which he accused the media of spreading panic.
Florida scrambled to bring back visitors in May and June as its economy declined under lockdown measures and it seemed the pandemic was under control. Hospitals are running short of beds, intensive care units are packed and the unemployment rate is climbing