MIAMI, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state has purchased 2,500 coronavirus testing kits in an effort to increase testing capabilities as the deadly virus continues to spread.
DeSantis, speaking at a press conference at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on Thursday, said the additional testing kits set to arrive this weekend will give qualified state labs the capacity to process tests for up to 625,000 people. The kits will be distributed to 50 labs throughout the state, starting with hospitals, so the tests can be completed closer to the patient.
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“If they are able to test in their own labs in the hospital, the turnaround time can be quicker and they will be able to make better use of their resources,” DeSantis said.
But, DeSantis said, right now the state doesn’t have access to enough sample collection and swab material due to a nationwide shortage. The state has a standing order to get more.
“In the meantime, though these testing kits will help hospitals and labs that do have the swabs on hand,” he said.
People in 14 Florida counties, including Nassau and St. Johns counties, have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Florida Department of Health. That includes 31 Florida residents and three non-residents. Two elderly Florida residents with underlying health conditions died last week after contracting the virus.
DeSantis said that 151 coronavirus tests are still pending.
The state is also stepping up other protective measures to guard against the spread of COVID-19.
DeSantis said he is suspending all travel for state employees for 30 days and asking the 90,000 people who work for state agencies to work from home if they can.
He also asked local governments and private groups, including the PGA Tour and Major League Baseball, to strongly consider limiting or postponing mass gatherings. The PGA Tour on Thursday announced The Players Championship will go on, but the tournament will play the final three days without spectators in an attempt to combat the coronavirus pandemic, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said on Thursday.
If mass gatherings are not canceled, DeSantis asked that organizations have screening measures in place.
DeSantis also reiterated the need to protect elderly citizens and health care workers and monitor international and high-risk travel.
“If more and more people get infected without changes in behavior or other types of changes in policy, that is going to put an enormous amount of stress on our healthcare system and a lot of the other ailments are not going away. People are going to need medical care,” DeSantis said.
As a further precaution, the governor also urged elections officials to move any polling places that might be located at nursing homes or other facilities that house or care for the elderly. Florida holds its presidential primary on Tuesday.
The Florida Department of Corrections also suspended visits at all state prisons, as the state attempts to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19. In-person visits with prisoners at all facilities have been stopped until April 5.
A passenger on a JetBlue flight that arrived at Palm Beach International Airport was the latest person to test positive for COVID-19 and other passengers were advised to monitor their health according to Centers for Disease Control guidelines, authorities said Thursday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report