A spokesperson from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed Friday that there were no plans to set up any additional drive-through testing sites for the novel coronavirus in Florida.
The announcement was made as a nationwide shortage of medical supplies has forced leaders up and down the ladder to make tough decisions.
Currently, there are two federally supported drive-through testing sites in South Florida, one at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens and another at CB Park in Pembroke Pines.
Every day, thousands of samples are collected at these sites, and soon supplies given by the federal government will stop coming in.
Dr. Watten Sturman with the Broward County Medical Response Team says, because of this shortage, all test kits should only be used on first responders and healthcare workers.
“It would be nice to test the general population and those deemed at risk," Dr. Sturman says. "The reality is those individuals should be self quarantining anyway, regardless of the test results.”
HHS says it will continue supplying swabs, tubes and personal protective equipment to test first responders, but they recommend the state start establishing its own testing site, and request supplies through "the established system."
“People have to realize is unlike a hurricane when we have a problem we can ask for resources from other neighboring states of other communities to pitch in," Dr. Sturman says. "Everybody is having the same problem we’re having so there is nobody to pitch in for us.”
In a news conference on Saturday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the federal government was moving towards surveillance testing - randomly sampling throughout the area.
“They are going to be moving towards an approach that’s going to look at the major metro areas, some of those counties, they are going to be assigning scores, if it’s high risk, medium risk, low risk," DeSantis said.
The governor, along with officials from the Florida Division of Emergency Management, had notified that they were hoping to open a third testing location in Palm Beach. It remains unclear whether these plans will come to fruition without federal funding.
The full statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is as follows:
"Federal officials and the U.S. Public Health Service are working closely with state, local and private sector partners to bolster testing capabilities and supplies. We’re working to make testing more easily accessible to high risk populations.
Community-based Testing Sites (CBTSs) are focused on testing our nation’s frontline heroes, healthcare facility workers and first responders, who are working around the clock to provide care, compassion, and safety to Americans. We have made available sufficient supplies of testing materials so state and local partners can make testing more accessible in specific locations.
Many state and local governments and private providers are opening drive-through testing, and they know best how to meet their community’s needs making testing available to more people every day. At this time we are not planning to stand-up any additional CBTS sites in Florida. We recommend that the State, county, or the private sector (hospital, medical facility, etc) establish their own testing sites, and request supplies through the established system."
When asked if the Federal Emergency Management Agency would support new testing sites in South Florida, the organization provided the following statement:
"FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) is activated to a Level 1, the highest level, enabling our agency to closely coordinate with our federal and non-governmental partners to support state, territorial, local and tribal governments as we execute a whole of government response to COVID-19.
The states of California, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Missouri, Texas and Washington were approved for major disaster declarations to assist with additional needs identified in these states. All 10 FEMA regional response coordination centers are activated to support response efforts. FEMA Regional Administrators are coordinating closely with their state, local, tribal and territorial governments to determine the type and level of support needed.
Consistent with the principle of locally executed, state managed, and federally supported response, requests for assistance at the local and county levels should first be routed to their respective state. Any needs that cannot be met by the state or tribe should then be sent to the respective FEMA regional office. FEMA regions will direct requests to FEMA NRCC in Washington, D.C. for fulfillment.”
Drive-thru sites have been opening around the United States to make it quicker and safer to test people for the new coronavirus. But much like the rest of the U.S. response to the pandemic, the system has been marked by inconsistencies, delays, and shortages. Many people who have symptoms and a doctor’s order have waited hours or days for a test.