JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida Department of Health labs in the state of Florida are now able to test people for the coronavirus, according to Helen Ferre, the director of communications for Gov. Ron DeSantis.
State health officials said that labs in Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami can conduct the tests, which previously had to be sent to federal labs. The upshot is the results should be available 24 to 48 hours instead of three to five days, officials said.
“The most important thing is it will bring down the average testing time,” said Deputy Health Secretary Shamarial Roberson in a telephone interview. “It helps address this in a more efficient time.”
As of Monday, Florida had two confirmed cases of the coronavirus, which began in China and is known as COVID-19. DeSantis said the state was monitoring 150 people for the deadly virus, which was a significant drop from the 700 who were at one time under investigation.
DeSantis asked Vice President Mike Pence to send testing kits to Florida. The state had some kits, but officials were told not to use them until more kits became available. Those additional kits have been cleared by the federal government for the state to begin using in testing.
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Before the change, kits needed to be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for testing.
There are three conditions to meet for testing:
- If someone traveled to a country that’s a Level 2 or 3 risk, according to the CDC, and that person has a fever or lower respiratory issue
- If someone has had close contact with someone who is infected, and that person is experience fever, a cough or shortness of breath
- If someone has a lower respiratory illness and has tested negative for the flu at a hospital
The tests can be administered in various ways:
- A health care provider can take a noise or throat swab
- They could inject saline solution in your nose and remove the sample with a gentle suction
- They could use a tracheal aspirate, putting a bronchoscope down your mouth and into your lungs
- They could test thick mucus in your lungs
- Or they could test your blood
Floridians who think they’ve been exposed should NOT go to their doctor or ER first, DeSantis said.
“Individuals who believe they may have been exposed to COVID-19 (should) contact your local county health department prior to traveling to any physician’s office or hospital or acute care center," DeSantis said. “If you look at this virus, the vast, vast majority of people who get it will not require hospitalization.”
The governor’s office said anyone with questions on testing should contact their health department.
It comes as the first reported U.S. death from the virus was reported in Washington state.
President Donald Trump said at a White House news conference Saturday that 22 people in the U.S. have been stricken by the new coronavirus, including the just-reported death and four are deemed “very ill,” and that additional cases are “likely.”
The U.S. has a total of about 60 confirmed cases. Trump’s number seems to exclude cases of Americans repatriated from China or evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
The U.S. is banning travel to Iran in response to the outbreak of the virus and elevating travel warnings to regions of Italy and South Korea. Trump said the U.S. is also considering restricting travel from Mexico across the southern border.
A vaccine for the potentially deadly virus isn’t expected to be ready for at least 18 months, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has told news outlets.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott is also calling for increased screenings for the coronavirus at all of Florida’s international airports. Scott has requested information on the current security protocol and resources at Florida’s airports and seaports, and may announce enhancements to those policies in the near future.
News4Jax is still waiting to hear back from state health officials about the number of coronavirus test kits they have in Jacksonville, and any other suggestions that they may have for the general public.