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Desantis: Testing for clinical support, research happening in underserved Duval County communities

Gov. Ron DeSantis said the Florida Department of Health is working with UF Shands to conduct "surveillance-type" testing of asymptomatic people in underserved areas.
Credit: AP
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis listens during a news conference at a drive-through coronavirus testing site in front of Hard Rock Stadium, Monday, March 30, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn't want the people on the Holland America's Zandaam where four people died and others are sick to be treated in Florida, saying the state doesn't have the capacity to treat outsiders as the coronavirus outbreak spreads. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Duval County's underserved communities will have access to testing for COVID-19 through the Florida Department of Health and UF Health Shands, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced in a virtual news conference Tuesday.

DeSantis held a meeting with members of the medical community in Tallahassee, updating the state's response to COVID-19. He said the new testing will serve two functions, the first being clinical support for underserved populations such as public housing areas.

The testing will also provide a research component, evaluating a cross-section of the public who may not have symptoms in a "surveillance-type" testing in order to understand the extent to which people with not symptoms may be carrying the virus. This will contribute to understanding how the virus affects the larger community, DeSantis said.

"Everyone who has symptoms and meets the criteria can access drive-thru testing sites, but not everyone may know about it," DeSantis said.

The state conducted similar clinical and research testing at The Villages, a retirement community in Central Florida. DeSantis said between 600 and 1,200 asymptomatic seniors were tested, and zero tested positive.

The state is nearing 140,000 tests conducted across the state. Last week, the governor stated the goal was to test 100,000 people, which would account for approximately one test for every 200 Floridians.

The governor also said the state is working to establish a second drive-thru testing site in Palm Beach County.

Work is also being done to gain access to new rapid-testing kits, which can give positive results in five minutes, DeSantis said. Not all hospitals currently have access to the tests, but the governor said any facility that does not have them can contact his office and they will make sure those hospitals gain access.

This comes one day after Clay County's Department of Health Officer Heather Huffman said the DOH is not using rapid-testing kits, due to concerns with the accuracy and reliability of those tests.

DeSantis said they can be used to rule out patients coming in to hospitals, which helps facilities dedicate their resources appropriately.

The hospital capacity statewide is at 43% for beds, the governor said, with hospital bed availability in Duval County at 47%. Duval County's hospitalizations are currently at "negative seven," DeSantis said.

The governor spoke to a couple of doctors during the virtual meeting to discuss the treatment options and research that is ongoing in Florida and worldwide to battle COVID-19. He interviewed Dr. Sunil Kumar, critical care and pulmonary medicine at Broward Health, via video screen.

Kumar said the hospital is administering hydroxychloroquine, an immunosuppressive drug and antiparasite used to treat malaria and lupus, along with azithromycin or Z-Pak in one group of patients. Another group is being treated with hydroxychloroquine along with statins, which are typically used to treat high cholesterol.

DeSantis said he is working with President Donald Trump to contact India's prime minister in an effort to get more hydroxychloroquine shipped to the United States from Teva, one of the drug's manufacturers. He said a million doses are expected to arrive in Florida Wednesday, which will immediately be sent to hospitals across the state.

But, the governor cautioned that the treatment should not be used unless under the supervision of a doctor. A doctor on the video conference said the drug can interact with other treatments, causing potentially fatal arrythmias. 

DeSantis also addressed screening travelers entering the state. He said workers have screened almost 15,000 people entering by air and car, and they will continue to do so.

The governor said he is working with school leadership across the state to determine the best way to move forward under the safer-at-home orders. 

"Some parents would probably rather have their kids in school right now," DeSantis said. "Obviously we need to be safe and do it in the right way."

Monday, responding to a chorus of complaints about the state’s unemployment system failures, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he had issued an “all hands on deck" approach to fixing it.

Calling the existing system “just totally unacceptable,” he announced the state was mobilizing up to 2,500 state employees to process unemployment claims and training 700 new employees to staff the state’s call center. He also said state workers have brought new computer servers online to bolster system capacity.

RELATED: DeSantis responds to 'unacceptable' unemployment claim process, hires hundreds to help

The state’s unemployment system has been a source of much frustration, as tens of thousands of people flooded the state’s website for relief, only to have the system crash and force them to begin the lengthy process again. The site processes Florida unemployment claims, but is also the portal for those seeking relief under the federal CLAIMS Act.

DeSantis said the “the website couldn’t even handle it,” adding, “the system can now handle up to 120,000 simultaneous connections.  Recently that had been in 40- to- 60-thousand range.”

If you need to print an application to file, you can find the document here.

With the system and staffing improvements, DeSantis said he expected to see a dramatic increase in the number of unemployment and federal compensation claims processed. He noted until last night, the system had processed 62,000 claims. This morning it has already processed more than 20,000.

On a different note, DeSantis also urged religious leaders to take social distancing seriously as a week of important religious holidays begins. “We want people to be spiritually together but social distant,” he said. “Please keep god close but please keep COVID-19 away.”

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